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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Moments Before the Crash

By Phil Plait

On April 14, 2015, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with supplies for the astronauts on the International Space Station (this was before the more recent loss of the Russian Progress capsule).

After its primary job of lofting the upper stage and Dragon capsule high above the Atlantic was done, SpaceX attempted to land the first stage booster on a floating barge. Like the first attempt in January, this one didn’t go so well; it came in with too much sideways velocity, tipped, and hard-landed on the barge, exploding.

What did that look like from the barge, just a second or so before impact? This:

That photo was taken using a remote camera on the barge, placed there by photographer Ben Cooper. The top of the booster is just off the top of the photo, and to give you a sense of scale, it’s 50 meters tall—roughly as tall as a 15 story building.

You can see the landing legs deployed at the bottom, and the flame of the exhaust as it tries to land. At the top you can just see parts of the fins that help steer it, and on the top right the plume of a steering jet, trying in vain to keep the booster upright.

It didn’t quite make it.

Here’s video of the event, too:

The next barge landing attempt will be for the next ISS resupply mission, CRS-7, currently scheduled for June 19. Hopefully third time’s a charm.

Correction, May 4, 2015, at 18:00 UTC: I originally misstated that the booster is 38 meters tall, but it turns out that's for the old v1.0 booster. The v1.1 is 50 meters tall.

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