Photos: SpaceX’s debris-strewn landing barge back in port

This image, shared by Twitter user @petr_bourdais, was first posted anonymously on Reddit.
This image, shared with Spaceflight Now by Twitter user @petr_bourdais, was posted anonymously on Reddit.

Returning to port late Thursday under the cover of darkness, SpaceX’s rocket recovery platform has moored at a dock in Jacksonville, Florida, for unloading of charred debris from Tuesday’s crash landing of a Falcon 9 booster.

The 14-story booster was programmed to descend back to Earth, light its engines to slow down, then touch down vertically on the ship on four landing legs. SpaceX billed the maneuver as a purely experimental, and the rocket accomplished its primary job of sending a cargo capsule toward the International Space Station.

Videos posted on the Internet show the rocket hitting a bullseye, but it came down with lateral motion, and the movement was too much for the booster to overcome. The first stage tipped over and disintegrated in an explosive fireball.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the landing barge, which the company calls an autonomous spaceport drone ship, received only minor damage from the mishap. Pulled by a marine tug, the ship arrived offshore Jacksonville on Thursday morning, but it loitered a few miles from the beach until nightfall.

The barge stayed offshore Thursday to wait for darkness and appropriate tide levels, according to local news reports.

SpaceX is testing out technologies needed to make the Falcon 9 booster stage reusable. Engineers hope to bring back the rocket to a landing on shore on later missions.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.