Elon Musk explains why SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy core booster crashed



SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch wows space experts

Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino reacts to the historic test flight.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter Monday (Feb. 12) for the parts of a number of new details about last week’s Falcon Heavy test flight, including the reason why the massive rocket’s core booster crashed. SpaceX is also building a new drone ship rocket landing on the sea, he added.

If SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy blasted off last Tuesday (Feb. 6) from the Kennedy Space Center Pad 39A in Florida, the rocket’s three first-stage boosters were expected to return to the Earth and the country, as well as the company’s Falcon 9 rocket stages. The Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters landed successfully (and simultaneously) on the twin pads at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but the center core crashed and burned.

The core booster, which is expected to land offshore on SpaceX’s drone ship “of Course I Still Love You,” crashed in two of the three engines to fire during a final landing burn, Musk told reporters after launch. The booster missed the landing ship with about 328 feet (100 meters) and hit the water at 300 mph (484 km/h), damage of thrusters on the nearby droneship, Musk has said.

On Monday, we learned a bit more in Musk’s Twitter posts. The two engines do not fire, because they ran out of the ignition fluid, Musk said.

“Not enough inflammation moisture to the light of the two outer engines after several three engine relights,” Musk wrote. “Fix is pretty clear.”

That suggests a solution could involve simply adding more inflammation liquid, although Musk did not elaborate.

Musk has sharing a delicious tidbit about the future of the Falcon Heavy booster landing: SpaceX is building a third drone ship for the offshore-rocket landings.

His name? “A Lack of Solemnity.”

The ship seems to be named in honor of a fictional spaceship “Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall” in the science fiction book “Look to Windward” and “Matter” by the late writer Iain M. Banks. SpaceX’s other two drone ships —”of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read The Instructions” — are also named for the ships mentioned in Banks’ Culture novels.

“A Lack of Solemnity” is under construction and will be participating in “of Course I Still Love You” in Florida in support of the offshore, landings of the Falcon Heavy side boosters, Musk wrote. “Just Read The Instructions” is used for the Falcon 9 landings after the start of SpaceX’s pad at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

SpaceX has also built another ship with large metal arms to catch the protective payload fairings (or nose halves) on its missiles before they fall into the sea. You can see a picture of it here. Musk has said in the past that SpaceX’s fairings cost about $5 million, or capture for reuse can be a significant savings.

“It’s like a giant catcher’s mitt, in the boat form,” Musk told reporters after the Falcon Heavy launch. SpaceX could try to capture a falling Falcon rocket cockpit sometime this year, he added.

In the meantime, SpaceX still has a full list of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches on tap in 2018. The company’s next launch is scheduled for Saturday (Feb. 17) from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. The use of a Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Paz Earth monitoring satellite into orbit for Spain.

At least two more Falcon Heavy missions are on the docket for this year, along with many of Falcon 9 missions for satellite customers and NASA, which uses SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ships for the delivery of goods to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is also building a manned version of Dragon to fly astronauts for the NASA. The first test flight of the ship on a Falcon 9 rocket is also expected to be in 2018.

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