A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket boosted a Dragon cargo ship into orbit Tuesday on a three-day flight to deliver nearly 4, 400 pounds of equipment and supplies - including an espresso machine - to the International Space Station.
The climb to space was picture perfect, but an attempt to land the rocket's first stage on a barge stationed some 200 miles east of Jacksonville - a key step in SpaceX founder Elon Musk's drive to lower launch costs - was not successful. The rocket made it down to the barge, but it tipped over after touchdown.
"Ascent successful. Dragon (cargo ship) enroute to space station, " Musk tweeted about 25 minutes after launch. "Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival."
SpaceX tweeted photos showing the booster descending under rocket power just above the deck of the barge with its four landing legs extended. A second photo showed black smoke swirling around the base of the rocket, apparently just before or after touchdown. Musk tweeted: "Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing."
A video posted Tuesday night by SpaceX showed the rocket descending toward touchdown, tilting from side to side as it closed in on the landing platform. The video ends before the rocket tipped over.
Earlier attempts to land on the barge, named "Just Read The Instructions, " were not successful due to to stormy weather and problems with stabilizing fins needed to help control the descent. SpaceX fixed the technical issues, but pulling off a successful landing remains an elusive goal.
For his part, Musk has never promised better than 50-50 odds for the initial landing attempts. But in a tweet earlier this week, he said he hopes the company can achieve an 80 percent success rate by the end of the year, after gaining experience through multiple flights.
And in any case, Tuesday's landing try was a strictly secondary objective. The primary goal of the flight was to get the Dragon cargo ship into orbit and safely on its way to the International Space Station. And that part of the mission went off without a hitch.
The first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster descends toward touchdown on an offshore landing barge. Company founder Elon Musk tweeted the rocket landed "too hard for survival."
SpaceXRunning a day late because of approaching bad weather, the Falcon 9 roared to life on time at 4:10 p.m. EDT (GMT-4). With its nine first-stage engines generating some 1.1 million pounds of thrust, the slender rocket majestically lifted off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and streaked away to the northeast.
The kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines fired for a little under three minutes to boost the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere. At that point, the Falcon's single-engine second stage took over, propelling the Dragon capsule to orbit. A few minutes later, the spacecraft was released, its two solar wings unfolded and the capsule set off after the space station.
If all goes well, the Dragon will reach the lab complex early Friday, pulling up to within about 30 feet and then standing by while Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, representing the European Space Agency, locks on with the station's robot arm. Ground controllers then will remotely operate the arm to pull the capsule in for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the forward Harmony module.
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