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SpaceX launches two communications satellites, but crash lands booster on drone ship

TechCrunch TechCrunch 15/06/2016 Emily Calandrelli

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida this morning at 10:29 am ET carrying two communication satellites to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Shortly after launch, the Falcon 9 first stage returned to a drone ship in the Atlantic, but it came in too hard and the booster exploded upon touchdown.

SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, said the rocket experienced an RUD, which stands for Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly and is the term SpaceX uses when a rocket explodes during a recovery attempt.

Compared to missions to LEO (about 400 km altitude), SpaceX missions to GTO (about 32,000 km altitude) require their rocket to move much faster, meaning the booster will need to be slowed down from a higher velocity ultimately making a recovery more difficult.

Today’s mission was SpaceX’s second dual communications satellite launch to date. On board the Falcon 9 were two Boeing-made satellites known as EUTELSAT 117 West B and ABS-2A.

EUTELSAT 117 West B is owned and operated by Eutelsat, a satellite company located in Paris, France, that provides telecommunication services. The satellite that SpaceX launched today will join the EUTELSAT 117 West A satellite already in orbit and together they will provide telecommunication coverage to Eutelsat customers in Latin America.

ABS-2A is owned and operated by Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS), a satellite company located in Hamilton, Bermuda that also provides telecommunication services. ABS-2A will join another ABS satellite known simply as ABS-2 and together they’ll provide telecommunication services to South Asia, South East Asia, Russia, Sub-Sahara Africa as well as the Middle East and North African regions.

SpaceX successfully deployed both satellites, marking on all accounts a successful mission for today’s launch.

As for the rocket recovery, more data is required to understand why the rocket experienced an RUD.

After SpaceX’s four successful recoveries in just the last seven months, it’s easy to forget that soft landing an orbital rocket is still very much in an experimental phase of development.

Musk did state that the landing might have experienced the hardest impact to date.

It’s important to note that the booster did reach its mark on the launch pad, it was just the soft landing portion of the recovery that went awry. Most of the debris remains on the launch pad, which is helpful as it can allow SpaceX to analyze the rocket and collect useful data.

While SpaceX provided a live feed of the landing from the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love you, the video cut out just as the rocket touched down. A live feed is provided via a satellite connection from the drone ship. If the drone ship is rocked hard enough, that connection will cut out.

Like previous failed attempts, SpaceX plans to release the footage of the booster’s RUD to the public. Musk noted on twitter that this should happen sometime this afternoon once they’ve retrieved the cameras from the drone ship.

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