Early this morning, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, released images from the company's rocket landing attempt on Saturday. The photos show how the Falcon 9 rocket did indeed hit its intended landing platform in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And then it exploded.
The attempt was a world's first. After launching their Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station, the spaceflight company tried to land most of the rocket's body safely back on Earth. Normally, the majority of a rocket is lost or destroyed after it launches, making the jaunt to space pretty pricey. (Imagine if an airplane had to be rebuilt every time it flew somewhere). If you are able to land a rocket after it launches, then you can potentially reuse it, making space travel far less expensive.
The rocket's intended target was an autonomous drone spaceport, floating freely in the Atlantic Ocean. And just like a dart, the rocket met its mark. It just did so way too fast. In a series of pictures tweeted by Musk, you can see the rocket right as it impacts the drone ship. It hits at a 45-degree angle...
...and then flames.
According to Musk, SpaceX knows what went wrong. He says the “hypersonic grid fins” — appendages attached to the rocket that are meant to slow it down and guide the rocket to its target — ran out of hydraulic fluid during the descent. Rather than use a closed hydraulic system, in which all the fluids are conserved, the Falcon 9 uses an open short acting hydraulic, designed so that fluids are released over time. Apparently, SpaceX didn't store enough hydraulic fluid to compensate for this release, so while the fins had enough fluids to guide the rocket to its ultimate destination, they didn't have enough to land the rocket gently. The company is going to try to land another rocket again in two to three weeks, this time with much more hydraulic fluid.
Musk tweeted out the impact photos after some encouragement from John Carmack, the CTO of Oculus. Musk noted they were “kinda begging to be released.”