SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket this morning in a historic flight that saw the first reuse of booster rockets for the Falcon Heavy, marking a major milestone for the company that should clear it for certification of major military contracts going forward, but they were unable to recover one of the three rockets used in the mission.
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Launch a Success
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket successfully lifted off this morning towards the end of its launch window at 2:30 AM EST.
The rocket launch, designated as the STP-2 mission, took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a three-hour delay for maintenance on the ground.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/EZIbdSY5r2— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 25, 2019
The launch is historic in that the rocket reused two side boosters that had first been used to support the launch of the Arabsat-6A mission back in April of this year.
The boosters fired, returned, and successfully touched down back on Earth about nine minutes after launch in a spectacular synchronized landing in the dark.
Falcon Heavy’s side boosters have landed at SpaceX Landing Zones 1 and 2!— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 25, 2019
Wow, wow, wow!— John Kraus (@johnkrausphotos) June 25, 2019
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched the STP-2 mission at 2:30am this morning. The two side cores, flying their second mission, returned to land successfully at Cape Canaveral.
It was incredible. Simply incredible. pic.twitter.com/wCgj06k8sk
Absolutely stunning views as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launches the STP-2 mission and the rocket’s two side boosters return to land at Cape Canaveral. pic.twitter.com/rSiPIiI5B8— John Kraus (@johnkrausphotos) June 25, 2019
So effing cool... pic.twitter.com/ywf8TxYrAH— PureTorque (@TorquePure) June 25, 2019
I am in AWE of how incredible the launch and landing were. What an amazing time to be alive and being able to witness this. pic.twitter.com/deZxTMSTQV— ? ? ? ? (@kitaqm) June 25, 2019
The Curse of the Center Core Continues
The center core engine detached about a minute after the boosters, placing it too far away from land to attempt a return to Kennedy Space Center, but instead, it was supposed to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You about a few hundred miles off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean. It failed to land on the ship, however, appearing to just barely miss it and instead land in the ocean just ahead of the ship and explode.
After the first Falcon Heavy test flight saw the successful landing of its side boosters but its center core rocket miss the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You by more than 300 feet, crashing into the ocean at 300 mph.
SpaceX successfully landed the center core on Of Course I Still Love You during the Arabsat-6A mission in April, but that center core rocket was lost when the drone ship encountered heavy seas on its way back to Florida, causing the rocket to tip over and fall overboard.
Now, during the Falcon Heavy's first night launch, the center core again failed to make it safely back to dry land for the third straight mission, prompting some to invoke the curse of the center core as the culprit.
#safariLIVE SpaceX center core rocket booster just exploded off the drone ship.— Wandering Wonderer (@WanderingWond13) June 25, 2019
No idea, it might be floating on the surface which might be towed for further analysis. The curse of Center Core continues to this day— Gopi (@go_pi_nath) June 25, 2019
no updates on fairing either..hoping for a positive one
Landing Failure! B1057.1 thank you for your service. The curse of the center core will continue. This was SpaceX's most challenging mission to date and the center core successfully sent the payload into a good orbit. pic.twitter.com/Y27VCyHY2P— SpaceXFleet Updates (@SpaceXFleet) June 25, 2019
RIP Falcon Heavy Center Core #3— Rin (リノア) Super-genius (@RinoaSG) June 25, 2019
I'm starting to think the Falcon Heavy have a Curse, and the Curse demands the sacrifice of a center booster. pic.twitter.com/E05NA5GruF
Elon Musk and the Curse of The Center Core— Ronnie Quiñonez Martinez (@ronnieQM_) June 25, 2019
That was the most beautiful view of the curse of the center core yet— Moldy Mouse Food (@MoldyMouseFood) June 25, 2019
SpaceX engineers weren't the only ones looking into what went wrong as Twitter began speculating and looking back through the video for clues.
So close on the center core! Betting that the engineers are already gathering data to aid in future attempts. Great work to all!— Sean Connolly (@IdeasFromSC) June 25, 2019
Here is the footage of the failed center core landing attempt.— ?Don Barbone? (@DonBarbone) June 25, 2019
Looks like they intentionally moved the booster away from the droneship in the last possible moment?!@elonmusk ???#spacex #FalconHeavy pic.twitter.com/hfnPMvzjXd
They were about 20 seconds late on the reentry burn from what it sounds like watching the stream, which might not sound like a lot but at the speeds and distances involved here, well... you saw what happened.— Generic Username (@Raptorguy3) June 25, 2019
I didnt quite see what happened but it looked like it was going just fine, but then the center core dipped?— Lihizz (@LihizzDRF) June 25, 2019
Was entering way too fast, hardest landing they’ve ever attempted— john ?? (@john1gressel) June 25, 2019
Yes! Though so since the flight director said it was supersonic (accelerating) just before landing burn callout.— Lihizz (@LihizzDRF) June 25, 2019
Falcon Heavy Center core curse continues... It looks to me like it full blown took off sideways... which MIGHT mean one of the outer engines could have shut down early and then pitched it over sideways... is that correct @elonmusk ? Next time!!! ? pic.twitter.com/pW16Wuw3wQ— Everyday Astronaut (@Erdayastronaut) June 25, 2019
Center core RUD. It was a long shot.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 25, 2019
In case you're like me and had to look it up:
Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly— Qivro ⎊ (@Qivro) June 25, 2019
Some on Twitter dealt with the grief from such a loss the way many of us do: with humor.
I hate that this turned out to be true lmao— Aspire (@AspireRL) June 25, 2019
We need a T-shirt with Harambe holding the center core— Ani G (@ganirudh) June 25, 2019
Respawn!!! pic.twitter.com/rm6sX15PPE— Karthik Naren (@karthikeyann0) June 25, 2019
Center-core has left the chat...— thespacexfan (@thespacexfan) June 25, 2019
It will be a few hours at the least before we get any sort of official account of what happened with the center core rocket, though SpaceX had been saying that this was the hardest launch they had ever attempted, with the center core expected to be be moving 20% faster after its reentry burn than it was after the Arabsat-6A center core entry burn. Of Course I Still Love You was also much further off the coast than it would normally be for a Falcon 9 launch due to the mission requirements.
High payload/delta-V missions will always be far downrange. Value of boost stage is measured (essentially) by *horizontal* velocity imparted to upper stage. Altitude is almost unimportant.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 25, 2019
Many took the time to appreciate that SpaceX didn't try to hide from the 'embarassment' of a failure like this morning's, seeing it as an important part of the process and something that every engineer should expect to encounter--even and especially SpaceX engineers, who are among the world's very best.
I just love the fact that they trust us enough to let us see it instead of cutting away like they did with the FH demo center core.— Robert Kenney (@rmkenney1) June 25, 2019
Failure is part of the engineering process. With the data gained from this they can improve for next time. For them to try to hide it would only make them look dishonest IMO.— Generic Username (@Raptorguy3) June 25, 2019
I love the attitude of "this is super hard, we're gonna give it a good shot as long as the main mission is not jeopardized, and Hey, even fails are interesting to watch". Much more authentic and thought-provoking than "Hey everything is great, nothing to see here".— Jonathan Bliss (@DrSunshineWa) June 25, 2019
SpaceX has the courage to take risks with non-critical parts of the mission and permit failures that help teach you how to keep them from failing in future. Companies driven by their PR departments will never be that innovative.— Kevin Mulhall (@KevinMulhall) June 25, 2019
However, this will almost certainly have an impact on any planned Falcon Heavy launches in the near-term, as today's center core was actually the only remaining center core for the Falcon Heavy rocket system.
Since that loss, SpaceX has no doubt been building a new center core rocket to replace it, but with the loss of the second center core this morning, that new rocket will be the only one available until a second one can be built.
The center core of the Falcon Heavy rocket is a modified Falcon rocket, however--it's essentially identical except that it has reinforcements on its sides and attachments for the side boosters--, so while it might take time to get a couple more Falcon Heavy center cores assembled and ready to go, it'll certainly go quicker than if it were an entirely different rocket.
The STP-2 mission also saw the attempt by SpaceX to attempt to catch the fairing of the Falcon Heavy rocket's payload bay, something that had never been attempted before, but which SpaceX succeeded at on their first attempt.
Once Musk said to his engineers that $6 million is falling from the sky and you have to catch it, what do you do?— Deep Jethwa (@TheDeppiox) June 25, 2019
They did this and finally caught it!
Team @SpaceX you guys are awesome! My man @elonmusk you are absolute madlad!
In all, it was a mission with a lot of ups and downs.
This launch has been a roller coaster ride— Ericsson (@HallmanEricsson) June 25, 2019
Successful Satellite Deployments So Far
⏰Deep Space Atomic Clock— NASA (@NASA) June 24, 2019
⛽️‘Green’ Propellant Fuel
☢️Space Environment Testbeds
Some one-of-a kind @NASA_Technology is set to launch on @SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket at 11:30pm ET! Check out the ground breaking innovations on board: https://t.co/QNLHKPYDDs pic.twitter.com/AkIQVzQx4t
But whether the rockets make their way back to Earth successfully is SpaceX's problem. The primary mission of STP-2, the launch of several satellite payloads from universities and other science institutions has been going smoothly.
Two hours into the mission, 23 of 24 satellites have been successfully deployed to low-Earth orbit, with the last remaining satellite to be launched in about an hour and a half from now in medium-Earth orbit to close out an otherwise remarkable mission for SpaceX.
Update: Three and a half hours after launch, SpaceX deployed the last of its 24 satellite payload at an altitude of just over 6000 km, successfully completing this latest flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket--center core drama aside. Onboard were several satellites affiliated with the US Department of Defense, so this mission should open the door for SpaceX to compete for military and other highly-sensitive government satellite delivery contracts that up until now have gone exclusively to United Launch Alliance.
United Launch Allience, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is the only private commercial space company currently certified to launch the US government's most secretive payloads into orbit. STP-2 was explicitly a test for SpaceX to see how well they performed and is said to have direct bearing on whether SpaceX will receive this highest-level certification from the government, forcing some much needed competition into the bidding process for these Defense Department contracts.