Was the landing attempt last week a failure?

If you go by the strict letter of the law then you have to answer that question with a Yes because one of the milestones was to land on the floating landing platform.

However if you look at what was achieved by this flight then we would say that there were a lot of positives to this test even if the result wasn’t what they hoped.

1 – According to Elon Musk the rocket crashed into the landing platform causing some damage to the support equipment.

The fact that the rocket which was traveling at more than two kilometers per second when it had completed it’s primary job was able to slow down, re-enter the atmosphere, locate a floating platform the size of a football field in the Atlantic ocean and get close enough to crash into it is a major achievement.

2 – Elon reported that they ran out of hydraulic fuel for the grid fins that were used for the first time on this flight, they had previously been used on a test. Before they ran out of fuel the fins had performed as designed and helped the control the return of the first stage to the floating platform.

He also confirmed that the next flight will have 50% more hydraulic fuel which should give them plenty of margin for that attempt, which looks to be the Eutelsat 115 West B & ABS 3A flight currently scheduled for 2/17.

3 – Elon stated in an earlier statement that he believe there was only a 50-50 chance that this would succeed this time. He later said he just guessed the number however it does show that what they are trying to do is difficult and we have to remember it has never been done before.

We believe that before the end of this year we will see a successful landing on the floating platform, when it happens the launch industry which has already taken note of what SpaceX are doing will really need to come up with similar designs or face losing out more and more to SpaceX as they continue to lower the cost of space launches.

SpaceX unveils Falcon 9 upgrades and landing pad

Elon Musk has revealed via twitter a design change to the next Falcon 9 rocket launching a Dragon capsule towards the International Space Station on December 16th for the CRS-5 mission, this flight was delayed a week to allow NASA more time to re-evaluate the payload manifest following the Antares launch failure last month.

The upgrades will allow the rocket finer control during descent back to the second introduction this weekend, the landing barge. It became clear that SpaceX were looking into this option when they challenged the patent currently held by Blue Origin for the same technology.

Both of these changes should allow SpaceX for the first time to realize the goal of landing a first stage rocket. Once landed the stage would need to be secured for transport back to base, although the longer term plan is for SpaceX to refuel the stage and allow it to fly back to the launch pad. However at present that isn’t an option as return to pad has not been approved by the FAA.

At this point it is not know when or if the first stage will be re-flown as there would need to be a number of tests done to verify that everything is working for another flight, only time will tell.

We will be following the next launch with interest to see just what happens and hopefully usher in a new era were re-usable rockets come another step closer to reality.