SpaceX booster damaged on barge but not lost


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According to an Associated Press report today, the Falcon Heavy core stage was damaged when it toppled over in heavy seas, but was not entirely lost.

The company confirmed Tuesday that the unsecured core booster toppled onto the platform over the weekend, as waves reached 8 to 10 feet. SpaceX chief Elon Musk says the engines seem OK. There’s no immediate word on how many of the booster pieces remain on board.

Musk says custom devices to secure the booster weren’t ready in time for this second flight of the Falcon Heavy.

From this report it sounds like the engine part of the stage remained on the barge. We shall see. Also, this report might explain the lack of a robot to secure the stage. The robot wasn’t ready, but rather than delay the launch for this reason they went ahead.

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8 comments

  • geoffc

    The Octograbber/Xoomba they use to secure boosters (the robot discussed) grabs onto attach points on the OctaWeb (ergo the name, and it kinda looks like Roomba, if you squint) which are different on Falcon Heavy since the side cores attach to the points it uses.

    Musk has tweeted they plan to upgrade the Octograbber/Xoomba to support the heavy. Note: JRTI in the Pacific does not have one, only OCISLY in the Atlantic uses it. So not usually required.

  • Col Beausabre

    Ya know, this episode may illustrate the fact that the NASA’s safety culture – much criticized in this blog as overly cautious – may have a point in regard to what appears to be SpaceX’s apparent “launch it anyway” culture. Failure to have operating methods of securing cargo is such a violation of basic seamanship as to be inexcusable.

  • jburn

    Col,
    cargo or debris? Typically these launch vehicles are simply discarded to impact the ocean surface and sink.

  • Col Beausabre: SpaceX’s first responsibility is to serve their customer. Delaying the launch just so SpaceX can guarantee the 1st stage’s recovery, when they themselves were unsure they would even succeed in landing that core on the barge, would have been bad for business. Better to get their customer’s satellite in orbit as soon as possible. This will help get the Falcon Heavy more contracts, which will give them amply opportunity to recover future cores. In the short run they will still make money from the launch, and in long run they will make even more, as they sell more contracts and recover their core stages.

    No one can accuse me of not criticizing everyone if I think they have made a mistake. However, I also think it a mistake to always second guess every decision. In this case it seems to me that SpaceX had its priorities right.

  • Richard M

    In truth, the greatest value in recovering the center core was the opportunity to closely examine it for how it fared in its high energy return, since this is the first center core of a FH they have ever recovered: To learn from it, and adjust in the construction of future center cores.

    SpaceX still has the center core, albeit damaged, so they will still be able to recover important data from it. (And at least they’ll recover the engines and the grid fins, which is a sizable savings!)

    Yes, it’s true, they likely would have used it on a future Falcon Heavy launch, though certainly not until at least next year; this won’t crimp their launch schedules, at least. It was more critical to recover the side cores, since SpaceX had banked on being able to use them both on the STP-2 Falcon Heavy launch scheduled for June.

    The customer comes first, as Bob says, and they’ve waited long enough for this flight as it is. SpaceX knew recovery was an elevated risk event anyway; and a tipover like this has never happened. I think SpaceX was right in taking the risk to launch this anyway without waiting for the octograbber to get its upgrade.

  • mpthompson

    Although I’m sad that SpaceX lost/damaged the center core, it does sounds like they were properly prudent and cautious about putting a recovery team on the OCISLY in rough seas. Having a crew member killed or gravely injured would be much worse for SpaceX’s reputation than losing this center core. And, as Richard states, the core is still available for examination and study.

  • Jeff

    Remains of center core arrived in port overnight on OCISLY.
    https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=47862.msg1937656#msg1937656

    As much as I hate the loss of the center core, SpaceX =did= land on this tiny platform in the middle of the ocean! The fact that the weather turned rougher than the core could handle soon after landing is no more frustrating to me than a launch scrub due to weather. Primary mission accomplished. =Any= recovered parts are all gravy.

  • Jason Hillyer

    I think the Falcon Heavy Center Core just wants to be left alone…

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