SpaceX successfully launched a new series of Starlink satellites on Monday morning, but the first phase of the Falcon 9 rocket that orbited them missed landing on a floating platform at sea. It is the first time that this has happened in almost four years; the last time Falcon 9 booster did not land on one of SpaceX’s drone ships was in June 2016.
Certainly, SpaceX has since lost a few rocket boosters. The company has lost the central core of the three-core Falcon Heavy two out of three times in the first few launches of that rocket. A Falcon 9 booster also missed the landing platform at Cape Canaveral in December 2018, instead spiraling into the sea after a failure with one of the screened fins stabilizing its descent. Also, SpaceX has not attempted landings since about 2016 on about a dozen missions – something it usually does when the missions require the rocket to reach higher speeds that make landing more difficult.
The booster to support this mission previously launched the CRS-17 mission in May 2019, the CRS-18 mission in July 2019 and the JCSAT-18 / Kacific1 mission in December 2019 pic.twitter.com/WWLc1LPxYy
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 14, 2020
The successful landing of SpaceX has been a blessing for his company. The more rocket stages it recovers, the more it can be reused for future flights. (For example, this booster made its fourth flight on Monday.) Re-using rockets is a way to reduce the huge costs of reaching space. SpaceX has not only become very good at catching and reusing its rocket stages, but it is also doing it faster than ever. The rocket launched on Monday was last used 72 days ago, so the private space company almost broke the record for the fastest turnaround of the space shuttle from NASA.
It is not yet clear what happened during Monday’s attempt to land. All that was seen on the broadcast was a cloud of smoke or steam on the side of the drone ship, indicating that the Falcon 9 booster missed the platform by a fairly large margin. “We clearly didn’t make the landing this time,” said Lauren Lyons, one of the engineers at SpaceX, in the broadcast. What is clear is that SpaceX has completely reversed the perception of its landings at sea. The company struggled with the first few attempts in 2015 and lost a number of rocket boosters at sea. Now they have become another part of the normal routine of the company.