SpaceX placed two communications satellites into geostationary transfer orbits today following a mid-morning Falcon 9 liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The company also tried to go four-in-a-row on first stage drone ship recoveries by sticking yet another high-velocity landing in the Atlantic.
Live video from the drone ship froze at the moment of truth (skip to 26:30). It initially appeared that the Falcon 9 stage had survived, and was standing tall amidst flames and heavy smoke on the deck of the Of Course I Still Love You.
But alas, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk soon tweeted that the rocket had suffered a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly, or RUD. He said one of the three landing engines may have underperformed, but apparently, a fix is already in the works:
Looks like thrust was low on 1 of 3 landing engines. High g landings v sensitive to all engines operating at max.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 15, 2016
Upgrades underway to enable rocket to compensate for a thrust shortfall on one of the three landing engines. Probably get there end of year.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 15, 2016
The commercial Earth observation satellite DEIMOS-2 caught a shot of the drone ship shortly after the landing attempt (you probably saw this if you regularly search the #RUD hashtag on Twitter):
Sticking the first stage landing was, of course, a secondary objective. The mission's main goal was completed without a hitch, as the Eutelsat and ABS communications satellites slipped gently into orbit. Actually, maybe it's a good thing the booster didn't make it back to its barn at SpaceX's pad 39A hangar at Kennedy Space Center. Things are starting to get a little crowded with all the used rockets, and SpaceX isn't expected to re-fly a booster until September or October.
Musk said video footage from today's landing attempt will be posted soon. In the meantime, here are a couple nice launch pics:
I also loved this moment from the live video stream. The views on the left and right are from the first and second stages, repsectively. You can see a large portion of the Florida peninsula in the background, with the outline of Cape Canaveral sticking out into the ocean. Screen telemetry indicates the second stage was just on the verge of crossing the 100-kilometer boundary of space.