Last week’s Falcon Heavy launch accomplished damn near everything SpaceX set out to do. It managed to take off without blowing up. It put company founder Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster on its trajectory toward Mars. It even recovered the two reused Falcon 9 rockets that served as its side boosters, as you can see in the video above.
It’s the third booster that wasn’t so lucky.
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Honestly, it feels churlish to call any part of the launch a failure, but one especially ambitious gambit didn’t pay off: The attempt to recover the rocket’s main booster ended with it crashing into the Atlantic, damaging SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the process.
Musk has already said he intends to make the best of the mishap by adding it to the SpaceX blooper reel, but that doesn’t mean he’s eager to repeat the experience. As he tweeted Monday, he’s confident the problem can be fixed.
As SpaceX confirmed at last week’s post-launch news conference, two of the three rocket engines needed for landing failed to relight during the booster’s descent. Unable to slow itself, the booster came down much too fast, overshooting the drone ship at 300 miles per hour and spraying it with debris.
Based on Musk’s tweet, the issue wasn’t exactly mechanical, at least not in the sense that something malfunctioned unexpectedly. Those engine relights are part of a launch, and the booster simply went through enough of them that it ran out of ignition fluid.
Musk didn’t elaborate on what the solution would be, though one reply suggested the absolute most obvious answer.
Of course, even just increasing the main booster’s supply will likely be a little more involved than, say, swapping in a slightly bigger tank. But SpaceX should have time to sort out the problem in time for Falcon Heavy’s next launch, which is currently scheduled for June.
Besides, it’s not like Musk — or most observers — were disappointed by Falcon Heavy’s overall performance in its big debut. Take a look at Musk’s live reaction to the launch, as captured by a Nat Geo crew for the upcoming series of MARS.