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Falcon Heavy center core toppled after landing

17 April 2019
Falcon Heavy center core toppled after landing

Rough weather at sea toppled one of the three boosters used during the launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket last week.

The Falcon Heavy's center core is a modified version of the nine-engine Falcon 9 booster rocket.

The two outer Falcon Heavy cores were recovered and touched down on concrete landing pads at Cape Canaveral. Normally, after a booster lands on the floating platform, it's secured by the so-called Octagrabber. SpaceX chief Elon Musk says custom devices to secure the booster weren't ready in time for this second flight of the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX may even be able to recover the booster's four valuable titanium grid fins and salvage additional hardware, depending on how much of the rocket remained intact and attached to OCISLY.

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.

However, the return journey for the core was a little more brutal than expected.

SpaceX doesn't expect future missions to be affected by the core's loss. This was announced well before B1055's anomaly, indicating that SpaceX and the USAF are likely some combination of extremely lucky and strategically brilliant. This was the first time that SpaceX was successful in landing all three of the rocket cores.

On April 11, the Falcon Heavy took off from Launch Complex 39A carrying with it the Arabsat 6A communications satellite.

The three rocket cores are fixed together during liftoff and are created to break apart after launch and guide themselves back to safe landings: The two side boosters conduct synchronized touchdowns on ground pads in Florida, while the center booster aims for an autonomous seaborne platform, called a droneship.

That note of optimism about future missions is because next time around, SpaceX has hinted that it will have a new and improved octograbber - the contraption that grabs and hangs on to the smaller Falcon 9 booster that SpaceX also recovers at sea. If B1052 and B1053 are in exceptionally good shape, a distinct possibility thanks to their relatively gentle return-to-launch-site (RTLS) recoveries, then that late June date may very well hold.