CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The fifth time was the charm for SpaceX as a Falcon 9 rocket shook off several delays and blasted a communications satellite into orbit through the Friday evening twilight. A risky at-sea landing for the rocket’s first stage, however, apparently failed again.
From Cape Canaveral, the brilliant orange flame cut through the pink and purple sky while the setting sun illuminated the rocket’s trail so brilliantly that it was visible in the skies from as far away as Tampa.
The white plume grew as the rocket climbed, gradually turning into two white dots – one rocketing into orbit, the other descending over the horizon for an attempted landing on a barge in the Atlantic.
45 minutes after launch, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the satellite had arrived in its intended orbit 25,200 miles up.
Target altitude of 40,600 km achieved. Thanks @SES_Satellites for riding on Falcon 9! Looking forward to future missions.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 5, 2016
However, Musk said the first stage came down too hard on the barge, resulting in a failed landing.
Rocket landed hard on the droneship. Didn't expect this one to work (v hot reentry), but next flight has a good chance.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 5, 2016
In December, the company successfully landed a spent first stage on a pad at Cape Canaveral, but earlier attempts to land on a barge all failed.
Indeed, Musk had not previously given this attempt a high probability of success given the speed the rocket had to reach to get SES9 on its way.
The company is hoping to reuse its rockets to reduce launch costs and despite this failed landing attempt, Musk remained optimistic about the plan.