It turns out that the third time wasn’t the charm for SpaceX’s latest attempt to land the first stage of its reusable Falcon 9 rocket. A little over two minutes into the launch this morning, something went wrong. Shortly thereafter, the unmanned rocket disintegrated over Cape Canaveral.
Elon Musk and his team aren’t quite sure what happened, but it appeared to be a problem with shutting down the rocket’s first stage. That would have been the stage landing on the robotic barge, nicknamed “Of Course I Still Love You,” waiting off the coast.
Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2015
Unfortunately, this is the third SpaceX reusability test that has ended in flames. The first two attempts had successful separations and deployments of ISS cargo in the Dragon spacecraft. But both of those first stages hit the autonomous barge and exploded. The latest launch didn’t make it that far. Along with the rocket itself, over 30 student experiments sent up as part of an “education payload” and 700 kilograms of cargo for the ISS astronauts disintegrated.
For now, the proof of concept for reusable rockets — being able to reuse a rocket stage should drastically lower mission costs — is still out of reach. More information should be coming out in the next few days as to what exactly went wrong, and what the next step for SpaceX is.