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Just as a Falcon 9 rocket was due to land, the horizon began to glow

At left, a glow can be seen on the horizon just as a Falcon 9 rocket was due to land.
Enlarge / At left, a glow can be seen on the horizon just as a Falcon 9 rocket was due to land.

SpaceX webcast

A Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Monday night carrying its payload of 60 Starlink satellites. After dropping off the second stage in a parking orbit, the first stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere for a rendezvous with a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Alas, the rocket never made it to the boat. The company’s launch webcast included a video from the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You, and a distant glow could be seen on the horizon when the rocket was due to land.

“We did get a little bright glow… no longer see a flame there… it does look like we did not land our booster,” said launch commentator Jessica Anderson, a manufacturing engineer at SpaceX. “It is unfortunate that we did not recover this booster, but our second stage is still on a nominal trajectory.”

Payload made it

As Anderson noted, the second stage did perform its job, ultimately delivering the latest batch of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit. As the company continues to grow its number of operational satellites above 1,000, it plans to expand Starlink Internet service to more of North America later this year.

It is not clear whether there was a problem with one of the rocket’s controlled engine burns during reentry or a telemetry issue that caused the first stage to go awry. SpaceX did not provide any additional information about the failure.

This was the sixth flight of this first stage, B 1059, which made its debut in December 2019 by flying a Cargo Dragon mission to the International Space Station.

The also was SpaceX’s first failed landing since March 2020, breaking a streak of two dozen successful launches and landings both at sea and at a land-based landing zone. The previous failure occurred due to cleaning fluid used as part of the engine refurbishment process.

SpaceX had been due to launch yet another Starlink mission as early as Wednesday morning, at 55 minutes past midnight (05:55 UTC) from Kennedy Space Center. However, public notices indicated that launch may slip at least 48 hours, until Friday morning.

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