A SpaceX rocket, which had been used to make a routine cargo delivery to the International Space Station, successfully returned its potentially reusable upper stage to Earth, itself a major achievement, but the returning stage made a “hard landing” onto its ‘spaceport drone ship’, a floating landing stage in the Atlantic Ocean.
This was the third attempt to return SpaceX’s ‘Dragon’ upper stage to Earth. The first attempt missed the landing point by a few metres, hit the boat’s superstructure and fell onto the deck. The second attempt saw the upper stage return safely, and in one piece, but the landing ship had been moved due to extremely rough weather.
The concept is key to SpaceX’s owner Elon Musk’s scheme to have millions of dollars from the costs of launching satellites into space, and by making use of returnable upper stages which can be refurbished and re-used.
This latest effort was partially successful. “Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival,” SpaceX CEO Musk tweeted about 20 minutes after launch.