SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy center core booster falls over on ship amid heavy seas

The Falcon Heavy center core booster lands on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. (SpaceX via YouTube)

Mother Nature has splashed cold water over SpaceX’s triumphant triple booster landing in the wake of last week’s Falcon Heavy rocket launch. Literally.

After sending the Arabsat-6 telecommunications satellite on the first leg of its journey to geostationary orbit on Thursday, the three first-stage rocket cores went their separate ways.

Two side boosters touched down safely at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, not far from their launch pad. The center core landed on a drone ship christened “Of Course I Still Love You,” stationed several hundred miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The center core’s landing was a first. During the Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch in February 2018, the center core missed its target.

SpaceX was planning to reuse all three cores — as well as the two halves of the rocket’s nose cone, or fairing — on future launches. Unfortunately, the center core didn’t make the trip back to shore intact. Today SpaceX explained why in a statement:

“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 didn’t immediately respond to inquiries as to the center core’s current status — for example, whether it was adrift in the ocean.

SpaceX usually employs a system known as the “Octagrabber” to secure recovered Falcon 9 boosters on the drone ship’s deck, but that system couldn’t be used this time around because the Falcon Heavy core booster had a different mechanical interface. The company plans to use the system for the next Falcon Heavy mission, which could lift off as soon as June.

In other SpaceX news:

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