SpaceX has lost the core reinforcement of its Falcon Heavy rocket core after it fell to the ocean in storm conditions.
The world's most powerful operational rocket launcher made a successful landing on the SpaceX spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean on April 11, following its second launch and its first commercial mission.
"During the weekend, due to difficult sea conditions, the SpaceX recovery team could not secure the central reinforcement for their trip back to Port Canaveral," SpaceX said in a statement Monday. "As the conditions worsened with swellings of 8 to 10 feet, the reinforcement began to change and, finally, could not stay upright. While we expected to bring reinforcement back intact, the safety of our team always takes priority. We do not expect future missions to be affected. "
Apart from the loss, the mission itself was considered a success. It also marked the first time that SpaceX landed three impellers at once, with two that safely returned to the mainland and the now lost booster made a perfect landing on the unmanned spacecraft.
SpaceX has made more than 20 unmanned aircraft landings with its smallest Falcon 9 rocket in the last four years. While the team is constantly working to improve the reusable rocket landing technology, several of the initial missions saw it fall and explode seconds after landing. The landing system has now improved significantly, although it still suffers the occasional problem, even during the Falcon Heavy's inaugural flight when the central core malfunctioned on the way down and completely lost the drone's craft.
It is the first time that SpaceX loses a propeller in bad weather after a safe landing. The unmanned ship has a way to secure the Falcon 9 propeller after landing, but the slightly different design of the Heavy's thruster prevents the same system from being used. The company plans to adapt the system in time for the next Heavy launch in the summer.
The Falcon Heavy is perhaps described more simply as three Falcon 9 rockets moored, a design that allows it to pack more than 5 million pounds of thrust, equivalent to eighteen 747 aircraft firing at the same time. It is the largest rocket in operation today, and the second largest to date after Saturn V, the rocket that launched multiple missions to the moon into space in the late 60s and early 70s.
The first Falcon Heavy output in 2018 was mainly for test purposes and included the shipment of a Tesla Roadster owned by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on a trip to Mars and beyond. Compared to the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy paves the way for heavier payloads and more ambitious missions using the reusable SpaceX rocket system.
Last week's mission was the first commercial launch of Falcon Heavy, deploying in orbit the Arabsat-6A communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin for the provision of television, internet and telephone services in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.