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SpaceX's Elon Musk Says Rocket Landing Test Ran Out of Hydraulic Fluid

SpaceX CRS-5 Liftoff
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule launched on SpaceX's fifth official mission to resupply the International Space Station, Jan. 10, 2015. (Image credit: SpaceX (via Facebook))

Engineers with the private spaceflight company SpaceX are still trying to piece together what went wrong with a reusable rocket test Saturday, but the company's founder Elon Musk said Sunday (Jan. 11) that the rocket's steering fins ran out of hydraulic fluid during the attempt. Knowing that, Musk said that there's a better chance of a successful landing during a future test.

After successfully launching an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft loaded down with supplies on a trip to the International Space Station for NASA, SpaceX attempted to land a stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. The rocket ended up impacting the platform during the test.

"Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard," Musk wrote on Twitter on Jan. 10. "Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho." [SpaceX's Reusable Rocket Test Explained (Infographic)]

The drone ship is in good shape, but some hardware on the deck needs to be replaced, Musk said. The "hypersonic grid fins" attached to the rocket stage for stability during landing worked well, Musk added, but they ran out of hydraulic fluid just before touchdown.

"Upcoming flight already has 50% more hydraulic fluid, so should have plenty of margin for landing attempt next month," Musk wrote in another post on Twitter. It is not yet clear when exactly SpaceX will attempt another reusability test.

The drone ship itself is now back in port. You can see images of the ship through Space.com partner Spaceflight Now: http://spaceflightnow.com/2015/01/11/photos-spacexs-rocket-landing-platform-back-in-port/

The Dragon craft — carrying about 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms) of food and other supplies — is now attached to the space station, where it will stay until about Feb. 10.

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Miriam Kramer
Miriam Kramer joined Space.com as a staff writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also serves as Space.com's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. You can follow Miriam on Twitter and Google+.