Elon Musk’s daring and unprecedented attempt to land a rocket booster upright on a barge in the ocean was unsuccessful Saturday, but SpaceX, his start-up space company, vowed to try again and said that the attempt “bodes well for the future.”
While the launch of the rocket to resupply the International Space Station went off without a problem, Musk said on Twitter that the first stage made it back to the barge “but landed hard [and broke apart]. Close, but no cigar this time.”
Musk tweeted that the “grid fins” used to help guide the booster ran out of hydraulic fluid “right before landing.” He said that the next flight already has 50 percent more fluid, so there should be “plenty of margin for landing next month.”
Musk, the billionaire founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, had said that the odds of pulling off such a feat were “not great — perhaps 50 percent at best.” But if SpaceX is able to one day stick the landing of the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket with consistency, it would mark a significant advance for space flight.
Typically, rocket boosters are too burned up and damaged to be used again — an expensive and unnecessary waste, Musk has said. For years, his company has been working on developing a reusable rocket, which would significantly lower the cost of space flight.
SpaceX, the first commercial company to resupply the space station, had previously attempted soft landings in the ocean. The rockets hovered briefly over the water before toppling over. But Saturday was the first attempt to land the rocket on a barge 300 feet long by 170 feet wide, using its engine thrust to slow down from a velocity of about 3,000 mph.
The launch from Cape Canaveral to ferry cargo to the International Space Station was originally scheduled for Dec. 19 but postponed twice because of technical issues with the rocket.
On Twitter, Musk said that the company was not able to get good “landing/impact video” because of dark and foggy conditions. But he said that the company will “piece it together from telemetry and . . . actual pieces.”