back to article Elon Musk: Wanna see a multimillion-dollar rocket EXPLODE? WATCH THIS

SpaceX boss Elon Musk has released video footage of the catastrophic attempt to land one of his multimillion-dollar Falcon 9 rockets on a floating ocean spaceport – revealing why the landing barge looked quite so toasted. This was the first attempt to land and secure the reusable stage of a Falcon 9 rocket after it had …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Musk's video shows, when these things fail it's fairly spectacular, and he'd rather that was done safely out to sea."

    Perfectly safe, except for the barge crew.

    1. ISYS

      Have a cigar

      To get the rocket that close after having already been through the launch phase and then a descent is still very impressive.

      Keep going guys!

    2. John P

      I believe the barge is a remote controlled drone, so no humans in danger at any point.

      1. Oninoshiko

        John P is correct, the barge is uncrewed during landing.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought it could act as a big RC barge?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Fokken owsome

        I suppose killing the barge that way would still be hard to do no matter what.

  2. PleebSmash


    That's considerably less soft than we were led to believe. Can't wait for the first successful recovery.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: boom

      Maybe it wasn't very soft, but it was right on target. I figure the lack of fluid at the end led to the approach being just a stone's throw out of line. The auto-controller had been tasked to try to land the rocket on the barge, and not just wherever it happened to be when the surface was reached. When it became clear that the barge was not going to end up directly below the rocket, the controller did its best to make it so.

      Pretty good placement, under difficult conditions too. Those low-angle rocket approaches are a bitch. But hey, at least some of the rocket landed (and stayed) on the barge, right?

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: boom

        It was pretty soft really, all things considered - like it was coming down sideways.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: boom

      That kind of landing is still 100% a success in Kerbal Space Program, and you could even jump to "land on your feet" if your quick enough... ;)

      PS, KSP and Twitter are awesome:

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Being harder is a GOOD reason to do it on water

    If you can make it work reliably on water when the station keeping isn't necessarily exact and the waves will move the platform up and down to some extent, it adds an extra level of assurance that doing it on land will be problem free.

    Still, hopefully when it is done on land that is very near a large body of water, or at least an uninhabited area like a desert, so there's a convenient place to abort to if problems are encountered on the descent.

    1. Anonymous John

      Re: Being harder is a GOOD reason to do it on water

      Plenty of room at the Kennedy Space Center, and it's near the sea. By the time it's too late for Range Safety to blow it up over the ocean, it must surely be clear where it would hit the ground.

      I don't see why landing a first stage should be any more dangerous than the actual launch.

  4. Justin Pasher

    Acronym fun

    RUD - Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly

    I love it! I'm going to start using that instead of things "break", "crash", or "destroy"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Acronym fun

      I've also seen/used UED. Unexpected Energetic Disassembly.

      Still impressive they got that close!

    2. Adam 1

      Re: Acronym fun

      Seems a good candidate for Total Inability To Support Usual Performance...

    3. Tippis

      Re: Acronym fun

      Other euphemisms from the same source include “hardware-rich combustion” and “litho-braking” (as opposed to, say, aero-braking).

      1. Colin Miller

        Re: Acronym fun

        Or even litho-breaking

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: Acronym fun

          There's also hard start.

  5. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge


    ...Skylon, the all-British revolutionary spaceship that lands on a runway, has no funds and is mired in EU bureaucracy...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meanwhile...

      I am afraid this is the difference between being financed by an engineering entrepreneur (REAL ONE, not a fake produced by a business school) and financed by grants.

      Unfortunately, engineering entrepreneurship in UK is practically extinct. We have a country run by public school humanity graduates - top to bottom. Starting with a government without a single technically literate person in it and finishing with most companies down to ~ 200 people having no real engineers in their management. Disclaimer - real means having actually built something themselves instead of degenerating into PHBs from the first day of their career.

      The very exemptions (Arm, etc) just go to emphasize the overall point.

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    is what happens when you give a Kerbal space program player unlimited funds to turn his dreams into reality..........

  7. pop_corn

    I think the Reg means hydraulic fluid, not "hydraulic fuel". What I don't get is why it ran out?

    1. DNTP

      I remember Musk explaining the "running out" part somewhere else- the equipment to recirculate the hydraulic-essential-media would have added more weight to the rocket than simply making the tank large enough, and hoping to estimate the correct amount of media they'd need. Guess what part of that went wrong.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      it didn't "run out" as in fluid. It ran out of pressure. It's a closed system but only stores a certain amount of pressure but they underestimated the pressure needed. Next flight has 50% more.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


        Scotty, come out of that Jeffreys Tube!

      2. Martin Budden Silver badge

        It is not a closed system, it is an open system and yes it did "run out" of fluid. A recirculating pump for a small-tank closed system would have added more weight than having a big tank and a pumpless open system. Unfortunately the tank was not big enough by 10%, so next time's tank will be 50% bigger.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      IIRC it uses fuel as the hydraulic fluid

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A 45deg landing angle would wreck anything capable (currently) of getting into space. Good luck next time.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hats off to Space X

    Failure is the necessary first step in learning.

  10. Borg.King

    It works at the circus

    Get it within a few hundred feet of the ground, shut down all the rockets and catch it in a big net!

    Seriously, more power to these guys for attempting this. They'll get it right eventually and in 50 years it'll be as every day as hover boards, flying cars and flux capacitors are now.

    1. Wexford

      Re: It works at the circus

      I signed up with The Register just so I could upvote this post.

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Re: It works at the circus

        > I signed up with The Register just so I could upvote this

        > post

        It's true. Welcome aboard :)


        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: It works at the circus

          "It's true. Welcome aboard :)"

          "Lift off will be in one hour, weather permitting and THIS time we'll land on that barge. Hold tight!"

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: It works at the circus

        Would you need Will E Coyote to hold the net ?

      3. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Re: It works at the circus

        I read to just before your post so I could be sure all the children had had their say and that we could get on with a discussion.

        Pity you were so slow to catch on. Maybe next time eh?


        What is it about ramjets and paraffin that puts people off that sort of thing for re-entry vehicles?

        I would have thought all the said fuel could be used up outbound and through docking/releasing cargo all the way maybe to re-entry then a switch over to said paraffin low cost cruising?

    2. Steven Raith

      Re: It works at the circus

      Whilst I agree that catching it in a big, rocket-proof net would be easier to an extent, it wouldn't be nearly as cool as a 1950s-sci-fi esque vertical landing.

      And if there's one thing Musk and his companies seem to be a fan of, it's the Rule Of Cool.

      Upvote delivered though...

      Steven R

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It works at the circus

      (Silly but anon plug, I wrote a short story where they do exactly that to "catch" deliveries to a gas giant)

  11. YARR

    SpaceX just won the Oscar for... fireworX display of the year.

  12. Johnny Canuck

    Wouldn't a small drogue chute make sense for this type of scenario, to keep the rocket more or less perpendicular?

    1. John Sager

      By the time it's needed the vertical velocity is so low that the drogue would have no effect.

      Also, landing on land - where? As someone else pointed out on another thread, the stage has

      considerable velocity eastwards due to the rocket thrust. The next land is in Europe or Africa somewhere depending on the launch angle for the desired orbital inclination, and at least a couple of thousand miles away. It's probably a lot more economical on fuel to come down forward & bleeding off the forward speed on the way down rather than trying to send it back to Cape Canaveral. A sea platform recovery is probably going to be used, and be a (weather, sea state) constraint for some time to come.

      1. itguy

        Well the barge is being used for testing only at the moment. Once the (FAA) are happy with their accuracy they will land back at the cape.

        Where the barge comes in long term is for their next rocket - the Falcon Heavy. This has additional cores (think 3 Falcon 9's strapped together) which they want to return, but having them all come back to the cape would need too much fuel ( and therefore less payload can be lifted) so they will recover these to the barge. They are also thinking of refueling the stage after it lands on the barge and then lifting off again and back to the cape (just a mere hop away).

        Cool stuff if they can make it work.

        1. Richard the Head

          I recall Musk stating that a fly back to the cape is very fuel heavy and the sea barge is the way to go for the foreseeable future unless the payload is very small. By the time of 1st stage separation they are over 220km downrange with ~4.5 mach worth of velocity. This would have to be eliminated, the stage turned around, fly back to the cape and have enough fuel to land. Very high fuel penalty even though its not a 1:1 ratio of payload to fuel on the first stage.

    2. Vulch

      Wouldn't a small drogue chute make sense

      This is what the grid fins are for, with the added benefit over a chute of helping with the steering.

  13. Jos V

    rapid unscheduled disassembly.... Yeah, happened to us last night in the pub with a high-amp speaker. We also had a failure with one of the hydraulic fluid containers to stop it from rapidly combusting the ceiling, but one working container was enough thankfully.

    Kudos to Musk's team though. They were darn close and I stand in awe of the engineers who designed and build this.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    This botched landing was originally categorized as a "prang"

    What actually happened is more of a "BANG!!!!!".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This botched landing was originally categorized as a "prang"

      To be accurate, it was a prang-bang.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This botched landing was originally categorized as a "prang"

        Did the rocket go "chitty-chitty" before that?

  15. Donkey Molestor X

    at least there can be no doubt as to the location of the kaboom.

    there really was an earth-shattering kaboom!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    vertically challenged

    could it not use a parachute and small thrusters on its side to land horizontally more slowly?

    great effort though all the same

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: vertically challenged

      Turns out in tests the parachutes are about the same weight as fins and/or engines in combination. So you'd have extra weight for little to no extra control at the low descent. A chute for slowing down in the higher atmosphere can help when returning orbital craft I think (though I've got that idea from computer games so may be wrong!).

      The fuel is lighter and the engines can be controlled better than a parachute. It's just getting the control there in the first place I guess. A but like a helicopter. We could land all the helis with parachutes, but by the time the technology is perfected, we can do powered landings.

  17. James Hughes 1

    Quite a few incorrect posts above and bad facts in article

    Hydraulic fluid ran out about a minute from landing, it's an open system, so fluid is lost during use. Tanks wasn't big enough (or carrying enough fluid). Grid fins locked hard over when they ran out.

    Parachutes have already been tried by SpaceX and sucked, hence they are trying this hoverslam landing approach. Parachutes also add unnecessary weight . Stage already has grid fins and thrusters for maneuvering, plus gimballed engine nozzle, but is incapable of hovering (cannot throttle engine low enough)

    tbh, the phrase catastrophic is also wrong. A catastrophic result would mean no data was received in this test flight, meaning it was wasted, whereas there is a clearly a lot of data and in many ways this was a successful TEST.

    Next test in three weeks.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Quite a few incorrect posts above and bad facts in article

      this was a successful TEST

      But clearly that bar is still in the red?


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quite a few incorrect posts above and bad facts in article

      Interesting how the throttle cannot be reduced enough. I wonder if they will ever add a different "mode" or a different set of engines for this?

      1. Hopalong

        Re: Quite a few incorrect posts above and bad facts in article

        Adding a 'landing engine' will add weight, also where would you put it? The base is taken up by the 9 Merlins. The Merlin can throttle back to 70%, they may have a few more % in the back pocket so to speak as they gain experience. Deeper you throttle the engine, the greater chance it will become unstable. It is easier to twig the control software on when to restart the engine than to mess with the engine to get deeper throttling.

        The LEM decent stage engine could throttle back to 10%, but that was a very special engine!

        1. mosw

          Re: Quite a few incorrect posts above and bad facts in article

          If they can throttle the individual engines back to 70% then going from 9 engines at 100% to one engine at 70% allows them reduce the overall thrust to 7.8%. Better then the LEM.

          1. James Hughes 1

            Re: Quite a few incorrect posts above and bad facts in article

            7.8% still gives a thrust to weight ratio > 1, so not able to hover.

  18. Elmer Phud


    The idea of floating platforms like this isn't new - sort out the rock'n'roll and tow the thing anywhere.

    What with Google and their waterborne server farm (or whatever it is/was) it seems that some people are looking ahead as regards the rise in sea level.

    Mr Costner will have to re-do the movie - we will still have sharks with frikkin' lasers!

  19. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Failed video link

    For those who, for whatever reasons, never seem to to get a working non-YouTube embedded video link in Firefox on Ubuntu.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: Failed video link

      thank you kindly, good sir.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Mike Flugennock

    Oooohhhhhhh! Aaaahhhhhhhh!

    Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly. That's friggin' classic, man.

    Screw "Selma"; this is my choice for Best Picture.

  22. Clive Galway

    That's a "Revert to VAB" moment if ever I saw one.

    Hats off once again Mr Musk - many companies would see this as negative publicity, but he knows all the geeks just see it as porn.

  23. Mikel

    So cool

    Can't wait to see the next attempt in a few weeks. Once they get it dialled in these missions will turn boring soon enough.

  24. KrisMac

    A RUD? Yep - Know all about those...

    .. we had one of them in our Prime Minister's chair a couple of talking heads ago... He spelt his name with two 'D's, but the impact on the local economy was pretty much the same as this RUD on Elon's rocket...

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