Last week, SpaceX finally accomplished something it had never done before. It launched the Falcon Heavy on its first commercial mission, and when its trio of boosters came back to Earth, it nailed all three of the landings. It was an incredible accomplishment, and still is, but unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for Falcon Heavy’s core booster.
In an announcement that the company certainly wishes it didn’t have to give, SpaceX revealed to The Verge that the Falcon Heavy center booster was swallowed up by the ocean after it landed safely on the company’s drone ship.
SpaceX described the unfortunate event thusly:
Over the weekend, due to rough sea conditions, SpaceX’s recovery team was unable to secure the center core booster for its return trip to Port Canaveral. 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. We do not expect future missions to be impacted.
The company did apparently manage to recover the booster from the ocean, with Elon Musk revealing on Twitter that the booster’s engines appeared “ok,” but would have to be inspected closely:
Engines seem ok, pending inspection
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 16, 2019
Seawater can seriously damage many sensitive rocket components, and ensuring that any piece of hardware that endured a dunk in the ocean is completely free of any corrosion or buildup is a difficult task.
Nevertheless, SpaceX has already announced that it plans to reuse the nosecone fairings of Falcon Heavy in another launch before the end of the year. The fairings splashed down in the ocean as well, and were quickly scooped up by SpaceX, so it seems the company is confident it can negate the effects of seawater on at least some of its pricey rocket parts.
SpaceX almost hit a total home run with the second Falcon Heavy launch, but it seems there’s still room for improvement. Maybe next time.