Elon Musk’s space faring venture SpaceX has aimed to make truly recyclable space travel a reality, by building a rocket that can reach orbit and return its first stage to earth, landing safely in an upright position. In December of last year, this goal was achieved for the first time, as after many attempts, their rocket safely touched down, upside up, using its own thrusters to slow and control its descent.
Despite this success, they still aim to go one step further and land the rocket on a barge in the ocean, rather than on dry land. The third attempt mirrored the previous two, in that the launch went of without a hitch (the satellite sent into orbit was JASON-3, a probe designed to measure sea level rise over the coming years), but the barge landing resulted in a spectacular explosion.
Right up until the moment of touchdown, all appeared perfect with the controlled descent. The rocket glided gracefully down, reaching the ground almost exactly on its target. However, one of the four legs designed to hold the first stage upright upon landing failed to lock into place. Tantalisingly, the rocket began to topple over, before striking the ground and exploding.
Elon Musk has released the video for all to see, and hopefully this attempt doesn’t discourage further progress in the field, because space travel is awesome and anything that makes it cheaper can’t be a bad thing!