SpaceX’s most difficult launch yet proved to be as complicated.
After a picture-perfect night-time launch went off without a hitch, the Falcon Heavy was on its way. However, the center core booster which was poised to return to land on a droneship in the Atlantic, missed its mark and crashed into the ocean early in the mission. It wasn’t all bad news however, with SpaceX demonstrating the first reuse and landing of the Heavy’s two side rocket boosters.
The world’s most powerful rocket launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the dead of night, lifting off at 2:30 a.m. ET in a dazzling flurry of flame, cutting a trail through the dark. The rideshare mission, known as STP-2, carried 24 satellites into orbit for the Department of Defense, as well as NASA, universities and the Planetary Society.
Prior to launch Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, was calling this one of the most difficult missions SpaceX has ever performed. A number of complex maneuvers were scheduled to take place, including four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits and a total mission duration of over six hours.
One of the major triumphs was the reuse and successful landing of the the two side boosters flown on a previous Falcon Heavy mission. The charred metal tubes certainly showed signs of their off-world experience hours before launch, but when they ignited it was business as usual for the Heavy. The boosters landed safely back at the Cape Canaveral Landing Zone at 2:38 a.m ET, a burst of flame lighting up the night in SpaceX’s infrared cameras.
But the dual side booster landing was just an appetizer. The main dish would be the center core booster landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. During, SpaceX pulled off its first successful center core landing but the booster eventually toppled into the sea because the droneship lacked adequate clamps for the Heavy core.
This time around the center core booster didn’t make it onto the droneship. SpaceX cameras captured it descending aberrantly and then crashing into the ocean about 12 minutes after launch. The SpaceX HQ erupted with shock, before breaking into applause.
The STP-2 mission is comprised of 24 important payloads, including, a solar-sail test mission promoted by science star Bill Nye and the Planetary Society, NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock, which could be used to help spacecraft navigate the cosmos, and , including those of Apollo 11 support astronaut Bill Pogue.
This cargo will be deployed into three different orbits over the first 3.5 hours of the Falcon Heavy’s flight and SpaceX will.
This story is developing.