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SpaceX Launched Another Falcon9, But Failed to Recover Its Nose Cone

Until next time.

Lou Del BelloMarch 30th 2018

As SpaceX blazes trails of commercial spaceflight and makes rockets reusable, there are gonna be some errors along the way. Today’s error happens to cost $6 million.

Today, SpaceX launched another rocket, sending 10 communication satellites into orbit. The launch itself went well, but the component that was meant to be rescued after the launch plunged in the ocean “at high speed.”

Today’s mission, called Iridium-5, was the fifth of eight launches meant to deploy 66 working satellites (plus nine spares) into orbit within the span of a few months.

On March 6, the Falcon9 successfully sent a satellite into orbit. Instead of trying to collect the components, Musk and his crew just let them fall into the Atlantic. That made today’s mission an important attempt — if Elon Musk is to make history with the first reusable rocket, he needed to show that at least some of its components can be salvaged and put to work again.

That’s what the team at SpaceX intended to do with this Falcon9 launch, with the help of a ship named Mr. Steven (Musk says the name was “just random”). They deployed the ship to catch half of the rocket’s fairing — aka its nose cone, the component at the top of the rocket that protects the satellites during the launch — before it fell into the ocean.

For pretty much every rocket launch up until now, the fairing was a disposable part of a spacecraft, and after splitting into two it would be left to fall back into the ocean, CNN explains. “Once it gets into the water, it’s quite damaging to the electronics and components inside the fairing,” Glenn Lightsey, a professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech told the broadcaster. “Most likely if it gets into the water, it’s not usable.”

The problem? This unsexy bit of rocket is very expensive, costing around $6 million.

And Musk is a practical guy, as CNN reminded us: “[If] you had $6 million in cash on a palette flying through the air,” he reportedly said, “and it’s going to smash into the ocean, would you try to recover it? Yes. Yes, you would.”

However, catching a piece of rocket as it falls back from the sky is, like, literally rocket science. And although Elon got us used to unlikely successes, this time Mr. Steven failed him.

Musk’s a little frustrated:

Another $6 million may be lost as the cone nose drowned, but the experiment isn’t over — you can bet Musk will try again.

SpaceX, Musk said in a tweet, will perform new tests to figure out what went wrong, so they can do better the next time around.

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