CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX has another launch under its belt, but not another rocket landing.
The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket blasted off at sunset Friday, carrying a broadcasting satellite for Luxembourg-based company SES. It was the fifth launch attempt over the past 1 1/2 weeks; Sunday’s try ended with an engine shutdown a split second before liftoff.
As it has tried before, SpaceX attempted to land the discarded first-stage booster. The target was a barge in the Atlantic, 400 miles offshore. Right before touchdown 10 minutes into the flight, the TV camera on the platform cut out, drawing loud groans from the crowd gathered at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
More than a half-hour later, the private company indicated the test was unsuccessful.
SpaceX never expected the test to succeed given the hefty, high-flying payload. This mission required that the booster fly much faster than usual and therefore burn up more fuel, leaving less for a precision touchdown. SpaceX scored a rocket landing on the ground at Cape Canaveral in December, but has yet to nail a trickier floating barge landing.
There were plenty of cheers, though, as the second-stage successfully lifted the satellite higher and higher, and even more when the satellite separated successfully in full camera view.
Company chief Elon Musk reported the target altitude of 40,600 kilometres – more than 25,000 miles – was achieved. “Thanks @SES-Satellites for riding on Falcon 9! Looking forward to future missions,” he tweeted.
Musk wants to retrieve and refly boosters to save time and money. Usually, the boosters just fall into the sea. SES chief technology officer Martin Halliwell said last week that his company would have “no problem” launching a satellite on a recycled SpaceX rocket.
SpaceX is working to recover from a launch accident last summer shortly after liftoff. It hopes to resume space station deliveries for NASA in the next month or so.