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Dramatic SpaceX video shows Falcon 9 rocket land, topple over, and explode

It comes down gently enough. And the all-crucial touchdown at least looks perfect. But straight after landing, it’s abundantly clear that all is not well. The Falcon 9 rocket ever so slowly starts leaning to one side before toppling over and exploding in a ball of flames.

SpaceX’s third try at landing a rocket on a floating barge ended in failure again on Sunday after a problem with one of its landing legs.

Frustratingly for viewers, a live online feed showing the mission cut out seconds before the 69-meter-tall rocket came down, though SpaceX boss Elon Musk later posted a video of the fiery landing on Instagram.

In an accompanying message, the CEO wrote, “Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn’t latch on one the four legs, causing it to tip over post landing.” He added that the “root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff.”

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The dramatic close-up footage, filmed by an on-platform camera, appears to suggest a perfect touchdown, with the rocket coming in slowly and perfectly upright. However, the issue with the landing leg meant it never had a chance.

Still, the team says it still feels “optimistic” about the challenge and is determined to try another barge landing before too long. Perfecting both land and sea touchdowns will give SpaceX more options when it comes to planning future missions.

Last month the team successfully landed a Falcon 9 on land, a major achievement as SpaceX continues in its quest to build a reusable rocket system to drastically reduce the cost of space travel.

Sunday’s mission, meanwhile, saw an older version of the Falcon 9 carry NASA’s Jason-3 ocean-monitoring satellite into low-Earth orbit before the rocket’s explosive return to Earth.