The Falcon 9 rocket experienced significant damage on its way back down to Earth - here's why.
SpaceX has made huge strides in commercial spaceflight in the past year, but the company is still very much in the learning process. According to a report from Discovery News, SpaceX’s Falcon rocket just sustained massive damage after landing on a floating ocean platform.
SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk says the damage was sustained due to exceptionally high speeds reached during the rocket’s descent into the Earth’s atmosphere. The Falcon was returning from a mission to deliver a communications satellite into orbit.
The mission had a launch date of May 6, but the company was unsure if it would be able to successfully land the Falcon on the floating ocean platform for a second time. The launch was intended to deliver a TV broadcasting satellite roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth. For comparison, the International Space Station is only roughly 250 miles above the surface.
Because of the lengthy trip, the rocket was packed with extra fuel and higher speeds. The breakdown occurred as the rocket underwent five times the heating than on the previous mission. According to a tweet from Musk, “Most recent rocket took max damage, due to very high entry velocity.”
The rocket’s primary stage split from the second stage approximately two and a half minutes after liftoff. By this time, it had reached a speed of 5,220 miles per hour, or 1.5 miles per second.
Musk says the scorched rocket, which ignited three of its nine engines to slow it down as it approached a platform in the Atlantic Ocean, will likely have to sit out for a long series of repairs before it can even be considered flyable again. More likely, the CEO says, it “will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.”
Information about SpaceX’s efforts to create a reusable rocket can be found here.