An unmanned SpaceX rocket blasted off on Saturday to deliver a cargo capsule to the ($100-billion USD) International Space Station that flies 260 miles above the Earth, but narrowly failed a novel test to land itself on a platform in the ocean, the company said.
“Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time,” Elon Musk, founder and chief executive, said on Twitter.
The returning rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid to operate its steerable fins, Musk wrote later. “Upcoming flight already has 50 percent more hydraulic fluid, so should have plenty of margin for landing attempt next month,” he added.
Space Exploration Technologies, the company’s official name, has been working to develop a rocket that can be easily refurbished and reflown, potentially slashing launch costs.
“Grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
The rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The discarded 14-story tall first-stage booster apparently hit its target – a floating platform located about 200 miles (320 km) off the Florida coast – then broke into pieces.
SpaceX is one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station following the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011. However, the second firm, Orbital Sciences Corp (ORB.N),was sidelined in October after its Antares rocket exploded minutes after liftoff.
Saturday’s launch was the fifth of 12 planned station resupply missions by SpaceX under its $1.6 billion contract with NASA.”