SpaceX sends a Dragon to orbit, but makes unplanned ‘water landing’ – CNET

SpaceX on Wednesday had trouble sticking the landing with one of its rockets for the first time since the groundbreaking launch of Falcon Heavy in February.

Elon Musk’s company succeeded in its primary mission of sending a Dragon spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station to deliver supplies, but the first stage of the Falcon 9 appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.   

A SpaceX Falcon 9 makes a splashdown after having problems approaching its planned landing zone.

Video by DasValdez/Twitch / capture by Alexandra Able / CNET

The live feed from the rocket cut away on the SpaceX webcast, but video from people in the media area at the cape showed the Falcon 9 appearing to regain control before making an unplanned landing in the water rather than ashore at the landing area.

Musk tweeted shortly afterwards that cutting the live feed “was a mistake” and shared the full clip of the water landing (and proceeding tip over into the drink) from the rocket’s perspective:

Twitch user DasValdez from Kerbal Space Academy did manage to catch the entire landing from the ground, which you can see above.

The rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:16 p.m., a little more than 48 hours after SpaceX sent another Falcon 9 to space from the West Coast on Monday. Dragon’s flight to low-earth orbit was supposed to happen Tuesday, but the mission was pushed back a day to replace some food being sent to the space station for mice living there that had gone bad. 

SpaceX had planned to land the first stage of the brand new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket at a landing zone ashore at Cape Canaveral, but as it descended towards the cape, the live feed from the booster’s onboard cameras appeared to show the rocket going in to some sort of uncontrolled spin. 

A Falcon 9 begins to spin wildly on its landing approach.

SpaceX video capture by Alexandra Able / CNET

The feed was then cut from the webcast, but cheers and groans could be heard from the crowd at SpaceX headquarters in California as the rocket then made a “water landing,” according to SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio, who was co-hosting the webcast.

Meanwhile, Musk tweeted the problem was that a “Grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea.”

The Falcon 9 is equipped with four fins that rise perpendicular to the body of the rocket as it descends to help slow and control its approach for landing. The video seems to show that one of the fins does not extend all the way at first, causing the rocket to spin.

It seems that once the stalled fin finally extends all the way, the rocket nearly regains control and comes in for a landing almost like normal, but off target in the water. Remarkably, it seems SpaceX may still be able to recover the rocket.

“Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data. Recovery ship dispatched,” Musk wrote, latter adding: “We may use it for an internal SpaceX mission.”

Musk also tweeted that the pump that failed is not redundant because “landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines.”

When SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, which is essentially powered by three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, the center booster did not land as planned on a droneship in the Atlantic. The last time a regular Falcon 9 launch ended with a failed landing was June of 2016.

Meanwhile, the Dragon spacecraft continues on its way to the space station carrying fresh mouse food, new science and engineering experiments and plenty of other goodies. It’s scheduled to arrive Saturday morning.

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