Remember last Friday when we told you about how SpaceX managed to land and recover the three rocket boosters that make up the first stage of their Falcon Heavy rocket? That was a big deal. Unfortunately, in the end, the enterprise was only 2/3rds successful, as the center booster, the one that landed on the SpaceX drone ocean-going landing pad named Of Course I Still Love You, was lost at sea.
Just landing a booster vertically after launching it into space is a big enough deal on its own; landing on a floating pad is an even bigger deal, but SpaceX seems to have mastered that part pretty damn well. What is a little less mature is their methods of securing the booster once it’s on the barge.
Normally, Falcon 9 boosters are secured on the barge via a big, flat robot with arms normally called the Octograbber. It looks like a giant Roomba that could suck your entire house up into its little dustbin:
The problem is that the Octograbber is mostly designed to work with single Falcon 9 boosters, or the boosters on the sides of the Falcon Heavy stack. The center core booster is, apparently, designed just differently enough that the Octograbber can’t grab the booster, which is at least in part why the booster was lost, something Elon himself confirmed over Twitter:
The other problem with this is that in a Falcon Heavy launch, at least one booster has to land at sea, since SpaceX only has two landing pads at Cape Canaveral. The center booster spends more time aloft than the side boosters, so it makes more sense to land it further downrange at sea.
Elon also Tweeted that the engines may be recoverable, but nothing is certain as yet:
Space travel isn’t easy, even in the parts that take place on Earth. Hopefully Aquaman is enjoying his new rocket.