SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in the early hours of Tuesday morning, delivering 24 satellites into orbit and making many of its clients very happy in the process. The company nailed the landing of both side boosters, but the center core booster narrowly missed its landing and splashed down in the ocean instead.
In the hours following the launch, SpaceX boss Elon Musk weighed in on the unfortunate fate of the core booster, offering a bit of an explanation as to why it missed its mark.
In a response to a question on Twitter, Musk explained that the booster was likely damaged early in its descent back to Earth, and that this damage ultimately caused a failure and prevented the booster from being able to control itself enough to make a safe landing.
If the booster was indeed damaged as it began to head back towards Earth, it’s actually rather impressive that it managed to make it as close to the drone ship as it did. At one point it appeared that it might come down perfectly, only to drift off to the side at the very last moment.
SpaceX has now failed to successfully recover the core booster in all three of its Falcon Heavy launches. It’s not the end of the world, but securing that component could save the company a lot of cash in the long run and they’d like to be able to pull off the landing consistently.
It’s hardly a worst-case scenario for SpaceX if it has to spend a few boosters while it perfects its technique, especially since the rockets are consistently delivering their payloads as planned. If nothing else, it’s something SpaceX can continue to work on over the next year as it prepares for its next scheduled Falcon Heavy launch in late 2020.