Click the arrow to watch the launch. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.
SpaceX launched its fifth official delivery to the International Space Station early this morning, with a perfect performance of the launch and Dragon cargo ship deployment.
What was once considered revolutionary, and perhaps a bit perilous, has now become almost anti-climactic.
Now all the drama is focused on the SpaceX attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage booster on an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (SpaceX asks you not to call it a “barge”) in the Atlantic Ocean.
During Monday's pre-launch media event, despite the best efforts of NASA media personnel, most of the questions were for Space Vice-President of Mission Assurance Hans Koenigsmann, who fielded a barrage of questions about the drone ship landing attempt.
As SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted this morning, “Close, but no cigar this time.”
A series of tweets throughout the day explained what happened.
Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced...— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
Didn't get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and ... actual pieces.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
Grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
Upcoming flight already has 50% more hydraulic fluid, so should have plenty of margin for landing attempt next month.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
Am super proud of my crew for making huge strides towards reusability on this mission. You guys rock!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
It's unclear if the next SpaceX launch from the Cape will attempt a barge landing. As of this writing, it's scheduled to launch on January 29. That mission will launch the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a joint project of NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Elsewhere on Twitter, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno responded to questions from tweeters, suggesting that the SpaceX plan to reuse rockets is not economically feasible.
@planet4589 McDonnell Douglass' Delta Clipper, JAXA's RVTS, and, of course, the Lunar Module— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) January 10, 2015
@planet4589 Yes, I would count all of those. The real challenge in reuse is economic, not technical— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) January 10, 2015
Sounds to me like Mr. Bruno is whistling through the graveyard, but I'm not an expert, so I'll let nature take its course. So far, those who have bet against SpaceX have lost every time.
UPDATE January 11, 2015 9:00 PM EST — SpaceflightNow.com has posted photos of the drone ship as it arrived earlier today in Jacksonville.
Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: SpaceflightNow.com.