Yesterday, the third time was not the charm. Once again, SpaceX failed to land its Falcon 9 rocket on an autonomous drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. Though the result was ultimately the same, yesterday’s attempt did show improvement. Unlike its predecessors, this Falcon 9 merely tipped over due to a leg failing to lock. The other two exploded.
Originally, SpaceX believed the rocket came in too fast, until further research pointed to the failed locking mechanism. Landing on solid ground is a far easier task, but SpaceX will continue to push for sea landings given their flexibility. Unlike a solid patch of land, a floating ship can move wherever it needs to in order to receive the re-entering rocket. This would save fuel immensely because the rocket would no longer need to traverse the horizontal distance it traveled away from the initial launch site. While there are far more difficulties in landing on a floating ship (for what it’s worth, Elon Musk noted that the failure yesterday likely would have occurred on solid ground, as well), the monetary value of doing so is enormous. That’s the key to the entire SpaceX program, saving money.
Musk, the company’s CEO has said previously that SpaceX currently has to build a new rocket for each launch, costing roughly $60 million. If it can perfect the landing process, the rockets would be reusable and would cut costs all the way down to $200,000 for fuel, plus whatever amount it takes to ensure the vehicle is up to code.
SpaceX has several launches scheduled in the coming months and the company says it plans to stick with ocean landings for the forthcoming missions.