SpaceX’s Record Setting Rocket Almost Falls In The Ocean After 19th Mission

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Tips into Atlantic Ocean After Historic Spaceflight

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster, which successfully propelled NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley on the first privately launched spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS), experienced a mishap during its return journey and ended up in the Atlantic Ocean. This particular rocket was distinguished as it had completed 19 consecutive successful missions, including the launch of numerous satellites into space after the NASA mission. Its most recent launch occurred just before the holiday weekend when it deployed a batch of Starlink satellites and safely landed on SpaceX’s drone ship in the ocean.

The success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 program has made it one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of the rocket industry. These boosters are the first of their kind, capable of delivering heavy payloads to space and then returning to Earth by landing vertically, thanks to their advanced propulsion technology. Furthermore, the reusable nature of these rockets, which can be utilized for more than a dozen missions, significantly reduces the cost of space launches for SpaceX and its customers, as compared to traditional disposable boosters.

SpaceX’s ability to rapidly reuse its Falcon 9 rockets, coupled with a growing fleet of these boosters, has been instrumental in the successful deployment of the Starlink low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet constellation. Previous attempts at similar missions faced challenges due to the extended lead times associated with building new rockets for each launch.

The rocket booster used in this recent incident had its first launch in May 2020 when it played a crucial role in SpaceX’s historic crewed demonstration mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). Since then, it has gone on to accomplish an impressive series of missions, including the launch of a South Korean military satellite, two satellite ride-share missions, and 14 Starlink missions. Over the course of three and a half years, this booster has successfully delivered more than 260 metric tons (860 satellites and spacecraft) into space.

Although it is uncommon for SpaceX’s rockets to tip off the drone ship and into the water, this incident was characterized by the company as an accidental occurrence caused by high winds and waves. SpaceX has already announced that changes to the mechanical design of the Falcon 9’s legs will be implemented to prevent similar mishaps in the future.

Update 10:22 am ET 12/26/2023: Latest information suggests that the booster may still be salvageable and is likely present on the drone ship.

Here are some comments from Kiko Dontchev, SpaceX’s VP of Launch, providing further insights:

Update 12:02 pm ET 12/26/2023: Recent footage of SpaceX’s drone ship reveals that approximately half of the booster was lost to the ocean. Jonathan Kraus has captured some impressive photography of the incident.

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