New age of commercial space travel begins and ends with a thud

12 Jan 2015

Image of Falcon 9 launch via SpaceX

SpaceX’s latest commercial space flight to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) using the Falcon 9 craft finally achieved its primary goal of delivering cargo, but its ambitious attempt to land on a barge didn’t go quite to plan.

After securing one of the contracts to supply the world’s largest man-made satellite in 2008, SpaceX have finally been able to get their Falcon 9 rocket successfully off the ground on 10 January, despite some delays due to weather.

At 9.47am UTC, the rocket took off from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with the craft’s record pressurised cargo total of 1.8 metric tonnes all, of which is due to arrive this morning.

However, while the crew aboard the ISS would have considered the delivery of supplies the most important aspect of the mission, many of those in SpaceX and general space travel enthusiasts were busy keeping their eye on SpaceX’s floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

This rocket launch was to be the first attempt at trying to land the first stage and most expensive part of the rocket, the engine, on to the barge in an attempt to re-use it again for future missions.

If successful, the landing would have been a first for space-bound rockets as until now engineers had been willing to let the engines crash into the ocean never to be used again.

SpaceX’s engineers meanwhile were quite willing to accept the latter part of the mission’s failure however, with SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk giving it a ’50:50’ chance of success.

As it turned out, it was ‘close but no cigar’ for Musk and SpaceX as the rocket did land on the barge but according to SpaceX’s press release on the launch, ‘it landed hard’ rendering it useless.

SpaceX engineers will now continue their research into one-day creating a re-usable rocket for commercial space travel.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic