Sea-battered Falcon Heavy booster arrives at Port Canaveral

Center core booster fell over in rough seas after landing

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. - The SpaceX Falcon Heavy center core booster that toppled over after landing on the ocean droneship Of Course I Still Love You arrived at Port Canaveral Thursday morning.

Falcon Heavy launched April 11 from Kennedy Space Center, generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust from 27 Merlin engines carrying a communications satellite for Saudi Arabian company ArabSat.

All three of the rocket's first-stage boosters returned for landing after liftoff. The side boosters stuck the landing at SpaceX Landing Zones 1 and 2 back at Cape Canaveral, while the center core booster touched down on the droneship.

However, the hardware toppled over during a storm while it was on its way back to shore this weekend, a SpaceX spokesperson said.

"As conditions worsened with eight to ten foot swells, the booster began to shift and ultimately was unable to remain upright," the company said Tuesday. "While we had hoped to bring the booster back intact, the safety of our team always takes precedence. We do not expect future missions to be impacted."

When SpaceX lands Falcon 9 boosters at sea, a robotic platform usually secures the hardware. However, because the Falcon Heavy’s center core is different from a Falcon 9 first-stage the robot would not have been able to secure the booster.

The partial booster arrived at Port Canaveral early Thursday morning on its side, according to the Canaveral Port Authority officials.

A new 19 million-pound crane — the largest mobile harbor crane in the United States -- will be used to lift the booster from the droneship.

Last week's launch was a first for several reasons for SpaceX.

During the 2018 Falcon Heavy test flight only the side boosters were recovered. The center core came in too hot and did not land.

Last week's launch was the first Falcon Heavy flight for a paying customer and all three boosters could have been recovered and reflown until the center booster fell over.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet that some hardware on the booster may be recovered and reused.

Musk also said the rocket's fairings, or nose cone, were recovered. This is something SpaceX has been trying to do with a ship called Mr. Steven, which is equipped with a giant net to catch the fairings. The fairings arrived at Port Canaveral on Of Course I Still Love You.

SpaceX is able to save its customers millions by recovering hardware and reflying rocket parts.

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