A huge rocket carried an unmanned supply ship loaded with cargo for the International Space Station into orbit Saturday, but a pioneering attempt to reland the booster on an ocean barge failed.
The cargo capsule is expected to reach the space station Monday. But SpaceX founder Elon Musk, in a tweet sent after the early morning launch, said the booster rocket broke apart when it landed too hard on a recovery platform afloat in the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite the rocket breakup, the billionaire Musk said he was encouraged that the 14-story booster managed to reach the platform in an almost successful controlled descent. He said the near-success "bodes well for the future."
Musk said that recovering and reusing rockets, rather than discarding them at sea, is becoming essential to increasing the frequency and lowering costs of future launches.
The launch from Cape Canaveral was the fifth mission under a $1.6 billion SpaceX contract with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The cargo capsule is carrying 2,300 kilograms (more than 5,000 pounds) of food, experiments and other supplies to space station crew members.
The shipment became crucial after another company's space station supply ship exploded on a launch pad in October, seconds after liftoff. The entire payload of an Antares rocket belonging to Orbital Sciences Corporation was destroyed at a launch facility in the U.S. state of Virginia.