SpaceX has pulled off two dozen drone-ship touchdowns to date, all but one of them involving first stages of the company's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.
At the time of the accident, the stage was being brought back to Port Canaveral by the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) "Of Course I Still Love You". SpaceX has been making excellent progress, but just had its latest bump - having its central Falcon Heavy booster fall over in choppy seas off the coast of Florida.
"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", SpaceX told The Verge in an emailed statement on Tuesday. Unable to remain upright, the rocket tipped over and fell into the ocean.
Even with the loss of the center core, it doesn't overshadow the milestone of SpaceX landing all three of the Falcon Heavy's boosters.
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.
'We have landed the center core for the first time, ' a SpaceX announcer said. When a Falcon 9 lands on the droneship, it's attached and stabilized by a device known as the "octagrabber" that grabs on to the rocket to keep it upright.
SpaceX was also able to recover both fairing halves of the megarocket for the first time. 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.
The total cost of one of its Falcon 9 launches is estimated to reach £44 million ($61m), while each of its larger Falcon Heavy flights costs £65 million ($90m).
On Thursday, April 11 at 6:35 p.m. EDT, Falcon Heavy launched the Arabsat-6A satellite from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In an incredible accomplishment, the Falcon Heavy's reused side boosters landed smoothly back down to Earth on two separate launchpads about 8 minutes in.
The SpaceX droneship is now on its way back from the Atlantic. The side stages touched down at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zones 1 and 2 while the core stage touched down on the ASDS.
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