Watch SpaceX's Rocket Land, Then Fall Over

Watch SpaceX's Rocket Land, Then Fall Over

SpaceX's Falcon 9 came very close to sticking the landing on a drone barge earlier today, but sadly, in the space industry, second place just gets you a fireworks show.

The live stream of the landing cut out at just the wrong time, so information about what went wrong came out in bits and pieces. Elon Musk just posted this video to Instagram, showing a landing that was perfect in almost every regard. Having executed a reasonably slow, vertical landing, one of the rocket's four legs failed to lock in place, causing it to tip over and explode.Musk said that the cause of the strut failure "may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff."

Although the landing was ultimately unsuccessful -- SpaceX won't be reusing that rocket any time soon -- the company is getting much closer with every successive attempt.

Top image via SpaceX

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    I look at this...and all I can think is, why aren't there arms that come out the barge that stabilize the rocket? You got this giant thing, that's basically a pencil trying to land on the head of an apple, while being juggled (maybe not that bad). But it basically sticks the landing, then topples due to the boat, just have some arms that come out once it makes more than two points of contact with the barge and stabilizes the rocket.

    I'm thinking something that works like a venus fly trap. Doesn't need to be complicated either. All you are doing is locking the rocket in place so it doesn't bounce around.

    oh I know, like a test tube holder (just huge) that swings up from either side of the barge. The tongs could be padded and have a hydraulic actuator that keeps them from snapping together with too large a force.

    Or am I just way off point?

      yeah...just why aren't there arms! I just want to reach into the video and keep it from falling over..gah!

      That solution increases the chance of a successful catch, but it also increases the places it could fail.
      And more importantly it means the rocket needs to land in a precise point. At present the rocket comes down onto the barge, but doesnt land on an X, it just lands, ON the barge.

        Not necessarily. You could have two hydraulically controlled arms running the length of the barge, one on each side. As soon as the rocket made contact with the barge, each arm would swing up from the side. Sensors would detect when each arm made contact with the rocket and stop. It wouldn't matter where on the barge the rocket landed, the arms would prevent it from falling. *Patent Pending

          Your idea would work, but it still means landing on the barge. I imagine they had plenty of discussions around the issue and it wouldn't shock me if they wanted a solution that could land practically anywhere without the need for heavy and costly platforms to be positioned and deployed ahead of time.

          With this setup they can probably schedule a landing at any old runway or open piece of tarmac in the world on relatively short notice, where specialised platforms would possibly require weeks or months of setup and prep time.

          As Musks video noted, the landing may have been impacted by environmental issues. Maybe they want an option where they can easily designate half a dozen landing pads across a continent and based on the weather conditions of the day, go to any of them with minimal fuss while minimising risks caused by environmental conditions taking a turn for the worse.

          Don't know, but there's probably a good reason for having a low tech landing pad.

          Last edited 18/01/16 7:53 pm

            A clever idea followed up with a well-though-out response. That's something unusual for a forum. Well done you two.

            Last edited 19/01/16 8:30 am

            Oh, I understand that they want the rocket to land anywhere. however, it seems like a waste of money to not have arms in the mean time to catch the rocket when it doesn't work. E.g. a back up plan for the tests. Rather than "LOOK AN ASPLOSION!"

            Although the Mythbusters likely approve greatly ;P

              Yeah you're right. I do like the fact Musk is openly sharing the attempts though. Each attempts interesting to watch especially when the failure differs with each attempt.

      That sounds like a reasonable solution.
      A thought I had was an large electromagnet under the deck which is turned on when the rocket lands. All 4 feet would be essentially "glued" to the surface while the magnet is on.

      Your idea seems more practical though.

      I think @tc is on point here.

      And I think they are looking to not limit themselves with the technology here. My thinking is that in the future, they may not want to land at a permanently designated landing site.
      If they can perfect the technology without the need for support arms or an external stabilizing structure, they could in theory land anywhere depending on reentry trajectory and weather conditions.

      Your idea is a good one because it puts the stabilising mechanism on something which doesn't need to be lifted into space.

      An alternative would be 'airborne tugs', for which I can picture various designs.

      Neither of these options solves a problem which we'd really like to see solved though:
      When we can stick the landing autonomously, we can land in a wide variety of places, on earth, and elsewhere.

    I feel like the bigger issue is that the whole thing explodes just from falling over.

      I suspect that there is some sort of self destruct code given automatically if the attitude of the rocket exceeds expected tolerances, just a thought.

      It is the size of a building and still contains rocket fuel, so I am not surprised. If they tried to alter its structure to handle crashing, then they would increase its weight, which would mean more fuel required, which again is more weight.....

        Yeah, I'm thinking that's the case. If it didn't explode, they'd have a lot of rocket fuel that they'd need to contain afterwards. Blown up rocket is slightly less of an issue.

    Why doesn't it just land in the water like the old days?
    Or on a really big cushion :)

      Water, especially salt water, would be damaging to components. Also, they are trying to make it so the rocket can land anywhere there is land.

      The really big cushion idea is good on the surface, but that rocket is HUGE. You have to realize that a cushion that size wouldn't likely be able to soften such a landing sufficiently (ya know, with the whole e=MC^2 crap...stupid physics).

      However, having snap arms on the side of the barge which move to the location of the rocket using simple hydraulics (@marcd), that are then cushioned....well for a test platform that could save millions of dollars of research money WHY NOT!? :P

        You probably mean F=MA?
        E=MC^2 might not apply to a rocket landing ;)
        Unless it's coming down reaalllly fast!

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now