JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the early morning hours of Jan. 10, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) attempted a feat that had never been done before — land a first stage rocket booster on a floating barge. The landing was not a success, as the booster slammed into the ship upon impact. Elon Musk’s, SpaceX CEO, preliminary report indicated that the ship itself was fine; however, there was evidence of damage to support equipment. A full picture of the hard landing and what repairs will be needed will most likely not be available for some days as crews work to analyze data and assess the ship.
A SpaceX Falcon v1.1 rocket lifted off on time from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:47 a.m. EST (0947 GMT). Approximately nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage would attempt to make history with the first attempt at landing on a ship. The landing was described as an unsuccessful “hard landing” by SpaceX officials.
According to Spaceflight Now, the ship returned to the Port of Jacksonville with the help of a tug boat on Sunday afternoon Jan. 11.
Officially titled the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS), and more often referred to as “BargeX” by fans, the floating platform is roughly the size of a football field, measuring 300 ft by 100 ft, with wings that extend the width to 170 ft. In pictures, this oceanic landing pad may seem like a large vessel; however, from the rocket’s perspective this experiment is like trying to play darts blindfolded with a target 1, 000 miles away. All of the pieces have to fall into place for this to be successful, and this time around they were not.
In a pre-launch press conference on Jan. 5. Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president for mission assurance, said, “Hitting a platform of that size is very difficult. We put the chance of success at maybe 50 percent. When you look at the vessel from the ground, I think it’s probably a very big platform, but when you look at it from space, it looks very, very small.”
During the briefing, Koenigsmann made it very clear that the company’s main goal was to launch the rocket and safely deliver the cargo to the six astronauts aboard the space station. Within the Dragon spacecraft was over 5, 200 pounds (2, 350 kilograms) of research experiments, hardware, and crew supplies including personal items from family members and even condiments. The crew currently has enough food to last for four to six months, but about a month ago they ran out of condiments. As anyone who has flown in space can tell you, while on orbit your tastes change and you crave spicier foods.
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