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Falcon 9 landing leg breaks free, slams into the deck of the company’s droneship

Published Jul 9th, 2020 10:15PM EDT
spacex news
Image: Terry Renna/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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  • An unofficial observer captured a rare glitch in the preparation of a SpaceX Falcon 9 for transportation after it was recovered via droneship.
  • A landing leg broke free of its constraints and came crashing down to the deck of the droneship as the used booster was being readied for its trip back to SpaceX.
  • Nobody was hurt in the incident, and the hardware appears to have endured the incident without visible damage.

SpaceX has had a busy and successful year thus far. The company has maintained a steady stream of launches despite the ongoing global health crisis and continues to bolster its Starlink communications network with dozens of new satellites every month. Of course, not everything goes right 100% of the time, and an eagle-eyed observer managed to capture a video of what appears to be a pretty serious snafu with a SpaceX Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral.

As Teslarati reports, the incident occurred with a new Falcon 9 booster as it was being readied for transport after delivering a shiny new GPS III satellite into orbit for the US military. While ground crews were working on retracting the booster’s landing legs, one of them appears to break free of its constraints and come crashing down to the ground below.

The video clearly shows engineers working on the rocket, slowly bringing its landing legs into an upright position. Everything seems to go smoothly until the leg being retracted comes flush against the booster’s body. Perhaps not secured correctly, the leg quickly comes falling back down, and the violent shaking of the leg and the surprise of the engineers as they crowd around the fallen leg hint that something obviously went wrong.

The workers reportedly were able to secure the leg again, and given the rigorous testing the Falcon 9 hardware goes through, it would seem unlikely that the rapid drop did any serious harm to the landing leg. Nevertheless, it clearly wasn’t supposed to happen, and it’s incredibly fortunate that nobody was standing around beneath the leg when it decided to return to its deployed position.

The weather in Florida wasn’t very cooperative with SpaceX’s plans on Tuesday, and the dockworkers reportedly took breaks and retreated from poor weather in between bouts of work. Eventually, they managed to get all the legs locked into the correct positions and lay the booster horizontally for transportation.

In the end, the unexpected release (malfunction?) of the landing leg didn’t hurt anyone and it doesn’t appear to have damaged the hardware, at least to the naked eye. SpaceX is a company that regularly celebrates its own shortcomings, and while this might not even count as a bump in an otherwise smooth road of rocket launches, refurbishment, and relaunches, It’s still interesting to see the process that a used rocket goes through as it’s being readied for transportation back to SpaceX.