Elon Musk once said that he would measure the success of SpaceX efforts to land and reuse rocket boosters when it became so routine that it was no longer newsworthy.
Since December 2015, the company has landed a total of 16 rockets, on either a landing platform at sea or its helicopter-like landing pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, turning what was once a jaw-dropping and unprecedented bit of aerial artistry into a somewhat ho-hum, to-be-expected exercise. SpaceX has landed so many rockets that it can be easy to forget just how difficult yet thrilling the feat actually is.
On Thursday morning Musk presented a blooper reel of the company’s many failed attempts, a two-minute video, set to a John Philip Sousa march, of explosion after fiery explosion. There are rockets crashing into a landing platform at sea and into the ocean itself, and one test vehicle that went awry and exploded in midair. Each one is a reminder of how difficult, and revolutionary, the achievement actually is.
In one shot, Musk looks over the charred remains with the caption: "It's just a scratch". While another is captioned: "Well, technically, it did land … just not in one piece".
Since its founding in 2002, SpaceX’s goal has been to significantly lower the cost of space travel, making destinations such as Mars achievable.
One of the best ways to do that, the company figured, was to stop throwing away the first stages of its rockets since Musk said it made no sense to not resuse them like an airplane after a flight. Traditionally, rockets’ first stages would boost its payload to orbit, then separate and fall back toward Earth, disappearing into the ocean, never to be used again.
First stages, or boosters, are the most expensive part of the rocket. It’s where the majority of the engines are found — in the case of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, there are nine engines in that first stage.
Landing fails often cause the booster could be traveling nearly 4,000 mph before its engines shut off. Then, if landing on land, it would flip around then light its engines again, to perform a “boost-back burn” sending the rocket back to Cape Canaveral, guided by GPS. As the rocket entered the atmosphere, the engines would light again, for a “reentry burn,” before lighting one more time as the rocket would touch down softly.
By landing the first stage, and using it over again, SpaceX figures to lower the cost of spaceflight. But as SpaceX’s video shows, it was a difficult and painful path. Each failure, though, resulted in new data for the company’s engineers to study, making tweaks to the rocket's software and the complex algorithms used to safely land the booster.
Some of the expensive mishaps featured in the video included an engine sensor failure, resulting in a dramatic mid-air explosion, while another shot showed the leg strut of a rocket collapsing, sending it toppling and bursting into flames.
"The course of true love never did run smooth," a caption reads.
Source - SpaceX YouTube Channel