Spaceflight Now Home

Mission Reports

For 14 years, Spaceflight Now has been providing unrivaled coverage of U.S. space launches. Comprehensive reports and voluminous amounts of video are available in our archives.
Space Shuttle
Atlas | Delta | Pegasus
Minotaur | Taurus | Falcon


Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest space news e-mailed direct to your desktop.

Enter your e-mail address:

Privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose.


Space Books

Falcon 9 booster's 'soft landing' seen in new video

Posted: August 15, 2014

A video clip released by SpaceX on Thursday shows a fresh view of the descent and splashdown of a Falcon 9 rocket's booster stage following a July 14 launch to boost six Orbcomm communications satellites into space.

A camera on a chase plane recorded this view of the return of a Falcon 9 rocket's first stage after a July 14 launch from Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX
The company says the rocket-assisted touchdown was the second consecutive time it has achieved a soft landing of the 12-foot-diameter first stage after a launch, putting SpaceX closer to returning a first stage to a landing pad near Cape Canaveral.

The video released Thursday was captured from an aircraft with a long-range tracking camera over the Atlantic Ocean. It shows the slender first stage descending toward the sea under the power of one of its kerosene-fueled engines, before the exhaust plume kicks up water just before impact.

The camera lost track of the rocket after it fell into the ocean, but SpaceX says the first stage broke apart moments after splashdown.

"After landing, the vehicle tipped sideways as planned to its final water safing state in a nearly horizontal position," SpaceX said. "The water impact caused loss of hull integrity, but we received all the necessary data to achieve a successful landing on a future flight."

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called the loss of hull integrity a "kaboom" in a tweet after the launch. He later posted that a data review indicated the stage's structural break-up was caused by a "body slam, maybe from a self-generated wave."

The rocket's engines are designed to adjust their throttle settings to achieve a gentle splashdown.

In a statement released last month, SpaceX said the July 14 test "confirms that the Falcon 9 booster is able consistently to re-enter from space at hypersonic velocity, restart main engines twice, deploy landing legs and touch down at near zero velocity."

SpaceX plans to make the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage reusable in a bid to reduce the costs of launches.

The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company, founded and run by Musk, posted a video of the rocket's descent last month from an on-board camera.

A camera mounted on the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage recorded these views of its descent into the Atlantic Ocean following a July 14 launch from Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX
The July 14 launch with six Orbcomm communications satellites was the first time video from an on-board camera clearly showed key milestones in the descent, such as two ignitions of a subset of the first stage's Merlin 1D engines to slow down the rocket and guide it to the recovery zone. The video also shows the rocket's four carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb landing legs deploying moments before falling into ocean.

A similar video of the first stage's descent during a Falcon 9 launch in April was obscured by a poor live communications link.

The next first stage recovery attempt in the Atlantic Ocean is expected during the Sept. 19 launch of a Dragon resupply ship to the International Space Station.

If that test goes well, SpaceX could try to return a first stage to a controlled landing on a floating platform or a land-based landing pad before the end of the year.

"At this point, we are highly confident of being able to land successfully on a floating launch pad or back at the launch site and refly the rocket with no required refurbishment," SpaceX said.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.