SpaceX sends Dragon to ISS but Falcon 9 rocket misses landing pad – CNET

SpaceX on Wednesday had trouble sticking the landing with one of its reusable rockets. It’s the first time that’s happened since the groundbreaking launch of the company’s Falcon Heavy spacecraft 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 launch vehicle appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.   

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 afterward that cutting the live feed “was a mistake” and shared the full clip of the water landing from the rocket’s perspective:

Twitch user DasValdez from Kerbal Space Academy did manage to catch the entire landing from the ground in footage for NASASpaceFlight.com:

Video by DasValdez for NASASpaceFlight.com/Twitch capture by Alexandra Able/CNET

The rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:16 p.m. local time, 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 experimental mice living there. 

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 the rocket descended toward the cape, the live feed from the booster’s onboard cameras appeared to show the craft going into 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 groans and cheers could be heard from the crowd at SpaceX headquarters in California as SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio, who was co-hosting the webcast, conveyed the information about the rocket’s water landing.

Meanwhile, Musk tweeted that 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 the craft descends, to help slow and control its approach for landing. The video seems to show that one of the fins didn’t initially extend all the way, causing the rocket to spin.

It seems that once the stalled fin extended fully, the rocket nearly regained control and came 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 didn’t have a backup 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 didn’t land as planned on a drone-ship in the Atlantic, though the two other rockets returned to ground safely. 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.

First published Dec. 5, 11:13 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:38 p.m. PT: Adds more details about the launch.  

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