The third attempt to launch and then retrieve a booster rocket intact has failed. But the primary aim of the launch, to take supplies to the ISS, was successful and supplies plus an espresso machine are on their way.
The Falcon 9 rocket's primary mission was to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
The rocket launch of the Dragon cargo capsule from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday was described by NASA as "flawless." The capsule separated from the second stage of the rocket about ten minutes into the flight and carried on towards the ISS.
It is expected to arrive at the ISS orbiting outpost on Friday with a cargo of two tons of food and supplies, including material for scientific experiments and an espresso machine.
The specially designed espresso machine is for Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who has been offered only American instant coffee since she arrived at the space station in November. The Italians in charge of the project hope to revolutionize coffee-drinking in space.
NASA, the Italian space agency ASI, aerospace firm Argotec, and coffee company Lavazza have developed en experimental machine that will deliver the espresso into a pouch.
"Proving this technology in microgravity may lead to new or improved brewing methods. Crew members may enjoy an ISSpresso beverage using specially designed space cups as part of the Capillary Beverage study - an improvement to the standard drinking pouch with a straw," NASA stated.
The reusable cargo craft will stay in space for about five weeks, as astronauts reload it with equipment to return to Earth.
But there was not such good news for the attempt to land the booster rocket. The rocket appeared to approach the platform in the correct, upright position but came in too quickly according to Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, the California company developing the rocket recycling technology:
"Ascent successful. Dragon en route to Space Station. Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival," Musk reported. "Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing," he added.
Musk's SpaceX is trying to make space equipment as reusable as commercial planes. This has the potential to save millions of dollars as currently rocket pieces fall into the ocean after launch and cannot be salvaged for another flight.
Musk, who made his fortune as co-founder of online payments system Paypal and now also runs Tesla Motors, had said Monday that there was an 80 percent chance of success by the end of the year as many launches lie ahead.
jm/bw (AFP, AP)