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Update on Falcon Heavy core stage landing failure

Link here. According to Musk, the reason the core stage hit the water so fast is that some engines did not fire as intended.

He said engineers believed only one of three engines fired during a final burn designed to slow the rocket’s descent before touchdown. The stage only missed the boat by about the length of a football field, but the force of its water impact was enough to “take out” two engines on the nearby drone ship and spray it with debris.

This is proper engineering procedure. They flew a test, and learned something. They now need to figure out why it happened, and fix it.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • In his press conference Elon says the final landing burn was intended to be three engines. However only the center engine lit, and the outer two did not. This was because the stage ran out of TEA-TEB, the hypergolic fuel mixture used to start and restart the engines. The stage hit the water at 300mph and the resulting explosion took out two of the engines on the barge.

    He promised to release any video footage if they can recover the cameras.

  • wayne

    Good stuff.
    (love the hen-cam link at your site, btw!)

  • Localfluff

    How could a near miss have damaged the drone ship more than the actual crash landings on the drone ships that SpaceX has demonstrated?

    Wernher von Braun turned in his grave coffin when he heard that those first Falcon 9 land impact events didn’t sink the ship even when it was a bulls eye hit! Hopeless. Terrible. Grueling. Won’t win the war this way.

  • geoffc

    i imagine the wave of 80,000 lbs hitting the water at 300 kph 100-300 feet away was enough to damage the thrustmasters?

    I would love to hear how people who run the Thrustmaster phone support line react when they see a SpaceX phone number come in on a call.

    “OK, how did you destroy the unit this time? Explosion? High speed impact? Burned it?” Each time, a new method of destruction.

    I do think the video, if they got any, should be epic.

    It is interesting that they literally JUST tested this landing profile with GovSat (that Kirk notes the Air Force had to blow up for them… How awesome is that? ).

    And another two launches in Feb planned. Woo Hoo! fun times!

  • Kirk

    OCISLY has just arrived at Port Canaveral. Photos tweeted here:

    All four thrusters are raised out of the water and stored in their towing position, and the barge doesn’t look particularly damaged. Musk’s “So the information I received was that we hit the water at about 300 miles an hour, roughly 500 kilometers an hour. So that’s hard. And about 100 meters away from the ship. Which was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel.” was based on initial reports and might have implied more damage than actually occurred. It is possible that “take out two thrusters” could mean as little as stalling their diesel engines.

  • Curious if the stage is programmed to avoid the ship if it malfunctions.

  • wayne

    Good stuff.
    It’s amazing, the questions that never get asked.

  • Localfluff

    Will they be able to build a new center stage for May, as planned for the next launch? I doubt they have another one lying around, if they had planned to reuse this one.

  • Localfluff , Elon said they were not planning to reuse any of these cores. So they must have one in the works for the next FH launch.

    He also said if he could pick a core to lose, it would be the center core; all he REALLY wanted to recover was the titanium grid fins on the side cores because “wow, those are expensive”! Center core has the old-style grid fins.

  • Edward

    Localfluff asked: “How could a near miss have damaged the drone ship more than the actual crash landings on the drone ships that SpaceX has demonstrated?

    The damage may not be as extensive as when the rocket crash on the ship, but it is in a different location, such as below the waterline rather than to the deck and the structures on/above the deck.

    Localfluff asked: “Will they be able to build a new center stage for May, as planned for the next launch?

    My understanding is that the next Falcon Heavy rockets will be of the Block 5 variety. I am beginning to think that SpaceX is not confident enough that the previous variety(s) is as capable of three flights as they had believed, because they seem too willing to expend them rather than fly them a third time.

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