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SpaceX loses Falcon Heavy’s center core in an otherwise successful launch

The side boosters stuck the landing (again)

The center core of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket crashed into the ocean as it attempted to land on a drone ship early Tuesday morning. While the momentous launch has been otherwise successful for SpaceX, the crash means that SpaceX still has yet to recover a center core from any of its Falcon Heavy launches.

Before the launch, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called this the “most difficult launch ever.” The Falcon Heavy was tasked with carrying 24 satellites into space, delivering them to four different orbits. The complicated mission has especially high stakes for the company, and was designed to prove to the Air Force that they are capable of carrying out national security missions in the future.

After a smooth takeoff, the Falcon Heavy’s boosters separated and headed back to Earth. The two side boosters — which had also flown during the last Falcon Heavy launch in April — stuck their landings on SpaceX’s two landing pads at Cape Canaveral. The center core attempted a more difficult landing, aiming for the drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. It missed the drone ship, with the live stream showing the rocket coming in for a landing, zooming past the landing pad, followed by a fireball erupting in the distance.

To date, SpaceX has not successfully recovered a center core from a Falcon Heavy launch. During the first launch, the rocket ran out of fuel and similarly slammed into the ocean. On the second launch, the booster managed to land on the drone ship, but fell overboard in rough waters.

Luckily for SpaceX, successfully landing the booster on a drone ship is not considered an integral part of the mission. Actually delivering the payloads to their respective orbits is a much bigger priority for the company. The deployment of the satellites, many carrying scientific experiments, is expected to take about six hours.