As you may have heard, the privately-owned aerospace company SpaceX has been having trouble achieving its goal of completing the first powered landing of a reusable rocket.
So far, SpaceX has made three attempts at landing their Falcon 9 first stage fuel rocket on a floating platform in the ocean. Unfortunately, all three attempts have ended with the same result: an exploding rocket.
Since landing a reusable rocket has never been done before, the first attempt back in January had many people excited. The rocket came in on target, but with little control. You can watch SpaceX’s first attempt at landing their Falcon 9 rocket in the video below.
Although many at SpaceX knew that they were taking on a difficult challenge and praised the landing attempt as a “success”, many were disappointed with the hard touchdown.
After learning from the first try, SpaceX made a second attempt to land one of their rockets a few months later. This time, the rocket came in with control and appeared to almost stick the landing… before slowly tipping over and exploding. You can watch SpaceX’s second attempt in the video below.
The third landing attempt never really occurred, because the rocket exploded in mid air just minutes after launch.
It may seem like a waste of time and resources to keep failing and blowing up expensive rockets, but if you calculate the money that can be saved by landing and reusing fuel rockets (instead of letting them free fall back to Earth or burn up in our atmosphere, as we do now), it starts to make sense why SpaceX would invest so much time, money and energy into the project.
And as if smoothly re-landing a rocket wasn’t enough of a challenge, SpaceX must prove that it can control its rockets and complete a successful landing on a barge in the ocean (which is more difficult than landing on stable ground) before the United States government will allow the company to set up a land-based landing zone for returning rockets.
Although SpaceX has not successfully re-landed one of their rockets, they are not giving up just yet. A successful landing attempt would be huge for the space industry, helping to lessen the tremendous costs associated with taking cargo and people to and from space. So hopefully, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk will be able to accomplish a successful landing in the near future.
To help get a better understanding of just how difficult landing a rocket on a barge in the ocean can be, Scratch user Dixitest created a free online game where you can attempt to land your own Falcon 9 rocket on a barge (scratch.mit.edu is a free programming language and online community where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations).
The game gives you control of a descending Falcon 9 rocket, which you have to guide safely onto the barge using your keyboard arrow keys. Play the nearly-impossible game here at Scratch.