After a string a successful landings on a autonomous robo-barge, SpaceX‘s latest attempt to recover the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket has ended in what Elon Musk called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” — an explosion. But that’s OK.
The entire operation, which you can watch below, might be defined by the failed landing, but that (at 36:26 in the video) was only part of what SpaceX was trying to do. The Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered two communications satellites within five minutes of each other, each into geostationary orbit 35,786 kilometers (22,236 mi) above us. And to do that, the Falcon 9 had to push higher and faster into space, meaning the landing was already going to be difficult.
So although it would have been great to add another booster to the warehouse for later reuse, the crash was almost expected. Landing at a higher velocity, with a new orbital trajectory—and with little fuel to spare—was an experiment SpaceX had to conduct, and unfortunately it led to the “hardest impact to date.” As for why the Falcon stage didn’t make it, Elon Musk took to Twitter to explain:
But like any good experiment, the new failure conditions have already taught SpaceX something:
Failure is a necessary part of space exploration. We’d much rather have 10 unmanned rockets blow up on a robot boat than one manned rocket anywhere. With each unsuccessful landing, SpaceX has shown it learns something new and corrects for it. And this wasn’t even a reused rocket stage, which Musk is hoping to relaunch later this year. These are the growing pains of a protocol that could revolutionize space travel, so streak or not, SpaceX is still succeeding.
Musk is promising footage of the landing from the drone ship’s POV later today.