Skip to main content

SpaceX loses Falcon 9 booster in rare landing mishap

SpaceX successfully launched another batch of satellites for its Starlink internet-from-space initiative earlier this week, but the mission failed to safely land the first-stage Falcon 9 booster on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The mishap came as a surprise, as it was the first such failure since March 2020, breaking a streak of 24 successful Falcon 9 launches and landings for the California-based company.

SpaceX has yet to explain the reason behind the failure, which occurred soon after the rocket blasted into space from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

A livestream of the mission showed both the rocket launch and satellite deployment. But when SpaceX’s video feed cut to a view of the waiting drone ship shortly before the booster was expected to touch down, nothing happened.

It seems highly likely that the booster went down in the sea, but several days later, there’s still no word on the cause of the mishap, and whether SpaceX managed to recover the booster from the ocean.

The lost booster, which is powered by nine Merlin engines, was on its sixth flight for SpaceX after first launching in December 2019, when it carried cargo to the International Space Station. Other missions have included satellite launches, with its most recent flight taking place in December 2020 to deploy a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Failed landings when SpaceX was in the early stages of developing its reusable rocket system weren’t uncommon, but in recent years, the Falcon 9 boosters have been landing upright on a drone ship or on land almost without incident. This video shows a great view of a perfect landing.

Following its most recent landing failure in March 2020, SpaceX boss Elon Musk put the cause down to a small amount of cleaning fluid trapped inside a sensor that later ignited.

Small amount of isopropyl alcohol (cleaning fluid) was trapped in a sensor dead leg & ignited in flight

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 22, 2020

The company’s delay in releasing details about the latest booster loss suggests it’s still analyzing data linked to the incident. Unless the investigation uncovers a serious anomaly, it’s unlikely the incident will derail SpaceX’s busy launch schedule, which already stretches into 2023.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is also trying to work out how it can land its next-generation Starship rocket without it bursting into flames. Both high-altitude test flights for the new booster have ended in spectacular fireballs, with Musk putting the chances of a safe landing in the third test at only 60 percent. Still, as Starship is a new vehicle in the early stages of development, crashes aren’t entirely unexpected. For SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, however, such mishaps now come as a costly surprise and need to be avoided.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Watch SpaceX’s Starship burn brightly as it hurtles toward Earth
SpaceX's Starship reentering Earth's atmosphere.

SpaceX surprised a lot of people on Thursday morning when its mighty Starship rocket managed not to blow up seconds after liftoff.

The Starship -- comprising the first-stage Super Heavy booster and upper-stage Starship spacecraft -- enjoyed its most successful test flight yet following two short-lived missions in April and November last year.

Read more
SpaceX’s Starship reaches orbit on third test flight
spacex starship third test flight screenshot 2024 03 14 143605

SpaceX's mighty Starship rocket has made it into space on its third test flight. The rocket, launched at 9:25 a.m. ET today, March 14, took to the skies over the Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and made it to orbit but was lost before the planned splashdown in the India Ocean.

The vehicle consists of the lower section, the Super Heavy booster, and the upper section, the Starship or ship. The two were stacked together ahead of today's flight and achieved separation a few minutes after launch. This tricky maneuver involves cutting off most of the booster's 33 Raptor engines and disengaging clamps connecting the booster to the ship. The ship then fires its own engines to head onward into orbit.

Read more
Watch SpaceX’s cinematic video previewing Starship megarocket test
spacex cinematic video previews starship test

After a long wait, SpaceX has finally received permission to launch the third test flight of the Starship, the most powerful rocket ever to have flown.

This means that SpaceX can proceed with its originally stated plan to launch the Starship -- comprising the first-stage Super Heavy booster and the upper-stage Starship spacecraft -- on Thursday, March 14. Digital Trends has all the information you need to watch a live stream of what promises to be a spectacular event.

Read more