Despite an early threat of thunderstorm-producing cumulus clouds that scrubbed yesterday’s launch, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off as scheduled today at 4:10 p.m. EDT (20:10 UTC). Roosting atop Falcon was a Dragon spacecraft laden with two tons of International Space Station-bound cargo.
Dragon made it safely to orbit without a hitch. But the second attempt to land Falcon's first stage on an autonomous drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean fell short. According to flight controllers on SpaceX's audio feed, the first stage executed its boostback, entry and landing burns as planned. Nineteen minutes after liftoff, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the Falcon landed on the drone ship, but did not survive:
Ascent successful. Dragon enroute to Space Station. Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 14, 2015
SpaceX also released a Vine video showing the rocket sway as it came in for landing:
At about two minutes, forty seconds into the flight—80 kilometers above the ocean—Falcon’s nine Merlin 1D engines fell silent. The first stage separated, the second stage engine came to life and Dragon was pushed onward to orbit with a seven-minute burn.
Meanwhile, the spent first stage, traveling more than three kilometers per second, began a series of maneuvers and engine burns to refine its trajectory for a landing at sea. Live video from cameras aboard the second stage captured puffs coming from the first stage thrusters, as the vehicle began its flip maneuver in preparation for a boostback burn.
Dragon will spend three days traveling to the International Space Station. It is scheduled to arrive Friday morning, when it will be grappled by astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts. Capture is scheduled for 7:00 a.m. EDT.