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SpaceX Rocket Damaged in Rough Weather After Landing at Sea

The landing of the Falcon Heavy center core booster at sea (SpaceX)

By MarEx 2019-04-16 17:11:25

Spaceflight company SpaceX successfully launched the first commercial mission of its Falcon Heavy rocket last week, and it landed all three of the flight's reusable boosters, including a landing at sea for the center booster. However, the center core booster could not be secured due to rough weather, and SpaceX has confirmed that it toppled over during transit back to port. SpaceX is evaluating options to salvage some of the booster's components. 

SpaceX operates a drone ship - a converted deck barge with a DP system - as a landing pad to recover boosters at sea. For flights out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, its drone ship Of Course I Still Love You is based at Port Canaveral. The company keeps a second drone ship in San Pedro, California for West Coast launches.

Until now, the at-sea landings have all been for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which carries a smaller payload. Falcon Heavy is made up of three Falcon 9 boosters, with one on each side of a center core booster. In Monday's launch, the two side boosters returned to land at Kennedy Space Center, while the center booster rendezvoused with the drone ship for recovery at sea. 

All boosters landed safely, but the center core booster suffered a mishap during the drone ship's return to port. “Due to rough sea conditions, SpaceX’s recovery team was unable to secure the center core booster for its return trip to Port Canaveral,” SpaceX said in a statement to tech outlet The Verge. “As conditions worsened with eight to ten foot swells, the booster began to shift and ultimately was unable to remain upright. While we had hoped to bring the booster back intact, the safety of our team always takes precedence."

The company does not expect the loss of the center core booster to affect its future missions. Competing satellite launch services use disposable boosters, and SpaceX achieves a cost savings with each Falcon booster recovered.

The mission's payload - the advanced communications satellite Arabsat-6A - was successfully inserted in geosynchronous orbit at 30.5 E longitude, where it will provide satellite TV and data services for the Middle East and Africa.