SpaceX broke its recent streak of successful landings when its most recent launch didn’t survive. The Falcon 9 rocket delivered two satellites to geostationary transfer orbit, which is one of the higher levels of orbital organization. Getting to GTO, as it’s known, takes up more fuel that most launches, so there isn’t as much to return the rocket.
In fact, this landing suffered from low thrust in one of the three main engines, and one would need full capacity in all the engines to land a Falcon 9 properly. The rocket was slated to land on a drone ship that would bring it back to shore, and it did hit the mark–but the thrust shortfall led to a “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” which essentially means it exploded. The last available footage from the drone ship, which is fine, shows the rocket coming down quite hard amidst smoke and flames.
This was the hardest landing SpaceX has attempted yet, and despite the failure, it should provide useful data for the engineers already at work on upgrading the Falcon 9 rocket systems. This should have been the fifth landing, following one on land and three at sea. SpaceX has launches scheduled for July and August as well, so they’ve got some opportunities in the very near future to land more rockets. The July launch will be followed by another attempted landing at Cape Canaveral.
Despite the loss of this rocket, SpaceX has no shortage of the vehicles, including four in a hanger at Launch Complex 39A, leased from NASA. It’s at Cape Canaveral, which will be convenient if the July landing is successful, though it will put that facility at storage capacity. As the Falcon 9 rockets are reusable, they should, at some point, be going back into space.