Space X’s attempt to land its Falcon 9 rocket didn’t go smoothly. After two reschedules due to technical difficulties, the Falcon 9 began its mission on Saturday, Dec. 10, carrying a cargo capsule to the International Space Station. All went well until it was time to land. The Falcon was unable to complete its upright landing on the ocean platform.
According to Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies (or Space X) the rocket “made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard [and broke apart]”.
The company is working on developing reusable rockets, a technology that could save a lot of money in flight costs.
The current technology only allows NASA to reuse a spaceship’s twin solid rocket booster which is usually recovered from the ocean where it would land with the help of parachutes. These rockets are unfortunately too damaged and burned up, needing a lot of patching-up in order to be reused. This method is too time-consuming, “an expensive and unnecessary waste” as Musk described it.
Saturday’s mission had the goal of launching the Falcon 9, together with the Dragon cargo capsule, loaded with more than 5,100 pounds (2,300 kg) of food, supplies and equipment, including an instrument to measure clouds and aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere.
After reaching the International Space Station, a $100-billion laboratory situated about 260 miles (420 km) above our planet, the rocket would return to Earth, touching down on a 91-metres long by 51-metres wide platform located far away from populated areas, about 200 miles (320 km) off the Florida coast.
The Falcon should have landed “on its feet” with the help of its grid fins which would guide the booster, decreasing its velocity of about 4828 km/h. The landing did not go as planned because the booster’s hydraulic fluid was completely finished when the rocket reached the platform, descending hard and breaking into pieces.
The founder of Space X explained that “grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.” The engineers learnt from this mistake and made some changes, adding 50 percent more fluid to the next flight, thus leaving “plenty of margin for landing next month”.
Space X has been collaborating with NASA since 2006 under a $1.6 billion contract. Besides the Falcon9 mission it also plans on designing a new space suit that, according to Musk, should “”look like a 21stcentury space suit and work really well”.
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