Fifth time lucky: SpaceX lands rocket on ocean platform


A historic landing for reusable rockets, but it's not been a smooth ride. Belinda Smith reports.



If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And for SpaceX on Saturday afternoon, it paid off.

A Falcon 9 rocket, which flung an unmanned Dragon cargo ship to the international space station, landed vertically – without tipping or exploding – on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean minutes after take off.

In December, a Falcon 9 landed safely on land. But ocean landings are trickier. Not only must a rocket contend with choppy seas and high winds, it must also adjust for GPS errors – a big deal when its landing platform is only the size of a football field.

These historic touchdowns herald a new era of reusable rockets. Until now, rockets have been single-use, costing tens of millions of dollars per launch.

The road to success has not been a smooth one, though. The weekend's launch was SpaceX's fifth attempt at an ocean landing. Here's what happened to the previous four.

Flight 14: 10 January 2015

Ocean platform landing attempt abandoned due to bad weather. Instead, the rocket landed in the water.

Flight 17: 14 April 2015

After a perfect liftoff into a blue sky, the Falcon 9 rocket made it to the drone ship and landed. But jubilation was short-lived. It tipped over due to what SpaceX called "excess lateral velocity". In other words, it was moving sideways too fast when it touched down.

Flight 21: 17 January 2016

The rocket successfully popped a weather satellite into orbit, but as it landed on the platform, a landing leg failed to latch and the rocket toppled over in a spectacular explosion.

Flight 22: 4 March 2016

The video feed cut out in the final moments, but shortly afterwards SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted: "Rocket landed hard on the droneship. Didn't expect this one to work (v hot reentry), but next flight has a good chance."

Explore #SpaceX
  1. https://cosmosmagazine.com/space/spacex-lands-falcon-9-rocket
  2. http://www.spacex.com/news/2015/04/14/liftoff-falcon-9-and-dragon-begin-crs-6-mission-resupply-international-space-station
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5qEJncn8Ms
  4. https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/705917924972736512
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