SpaceX Fails to Catch $6 Million Cone During a Falcon 9 Rocket Launch
And for the most part, it was a very successful launch - the Falcon 9 was carrying a Spanish radar satellite called PAZ as well as two experimental prototypes for their Starlink program (which would use low-Earth satellites to deliver much more reliable internet worldwide once the satellite network is complete). While those were both delivered into orbit successfully, the Falcon 9 suffered a serious fumble during its descent.
While Elon Musk's aerospace company prides itself on its recycled rockets, and their often impressive ability to land and recover entire rockets for future use, their attempt to capture the Falcon 9's $6 million nose cone failed and it splashed into the Pacific Ocean.
The whole situation becomes a little more bizarre once you see how SpaceX planned to catch that nose cone. After predicting the location where the cone would fall during the Falcon 9's launch (as it was supposed to detach), they sent out a special boat with a giant net attached, which Musk himself called a "giant catcher's mitt." The boat was nicknamed Mr. Stevens, which is a great name, but Mr. Stevens missed it by that much.
Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound. It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher's mitt welded on, tries to catch it.
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The failure to catch was mostly on the ship's end, as this was the first time a catcher's mitt-carrying boat was sent out during one of SpaceX's launches, and they clearly didn't use a big enough mitt. Or the parachutes or "parafoils" attached to the cone itself, as Musk later claimed that the cone's small parafoils threw off their calculations.
Unfortunately, even though SpaceX is likely to recover the nose cone from the ocean in one piece, that doesn't mean they'll be able to reuse it like they were hoping. It's a harsh blow, as boats like Mr. Stevens could be used in the future to recover other SpaceX devices like dragon capsules, but now they'll need to recalculate whether they can land them properly.
In the meantime, they have the Starlink prototypes to watch now. It's an ambitious project, as it'll require an expansive network of satellites that sit low in Earth's orbit, but if it works out, it could lead to a much more reliable internet that whatever you're using right now to read this.
But until then, SpaceX can work on avoiding any more costly water landings.