Yesterday, SpaceX launched its second Falcon 9 rocket of the year from Florida, but the company chose not to land the booster after takeoff and instead dispensed it in the ocean. In a weird twist, the Falcon 9 still managed to survive its fall into the deep sea waters and is bobbing intact in the Atlantic. Now, the company will try to salvage the floating rocket by towing it back to shore somehow, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
This rocket was meant to test very high retrothrust landing in water so it didn’t hurt the droneship, but amazingly it has survived. We will try to tow it back to shore. pic.twitter.com/hipmgdnq16
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 31, 2018
The launch sent a heavy satellite into a high orbit for the government of Luxembourg. Typically for missions of this kind, SpaceX will try to land the Falcon 9 on one of the company’s autonomous drone ships in the ocean after launch. However, SpaceX announced before the flight that it wouldn’t try to recover this rocket, even though this particular rocket has landed before. The company didn’t give a reason why, though there was speculation that the decision had to do with this Falcon 9 being an older iteration of the rocket. Plus, SpaceX likely needed its Florida drone ship for the upcoming Falcon Heavy launch next week. (The company’s other ship is over in California).
But though there wasn’t a drone ship in place to catch the Falcon 9’s fall, the rocket still went through all the steps of landing: it re-ignited its engines three times in a series of landing burns to lower itself down gently to Earth. In a tweet, Musk revealed that the rocket was actually testing out a very high powered landing technique with the rocket, and the company didn’t want to hurt the drone ship during the fall. It seems clear SpaceX did not expect the rocket to survive, but it now has to figure out how to bring the hardy vehicle back home.
Who knows what type of condition the Falcon 9 will be in when it gets back, though. Salty sea water has been known to cause damage to spacecraft before, and it seems doubtful this rocket will fly again. But if it does, it will have definitely defied the odds.
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