SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket carrying 24 satellites early Tuesday in Florida — but while the two side boosters landed safely back at Cape Canaveral, the new core booster missed a floating platform and erupted in a fireball.
“Center core RUD. It was a long shot,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted, using the acronym for “rapid unscheduled disassembly” after the mishap at the platform known as “Of Course I Still Love You.”
It was the first flight of a recycled Falcon Heavy rocket, but the first ordered by the military. The Defense Department dubbed the mission STP-2 for Space Test Program, which is expected to certify the rocket for future launches.
The two side boosters separated safely and landed on adjacent Air Force pads after the 2:30 a.m. takeoff for the six-hour mission to deploy the satellites.
But the rocket’s center booster missed its mark and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean — an outcome Musk had feared when he described the mission as the “most difficult” in the company’s history.
The satellites had to be placed in three different orbits, requiring several upper-stage engine firings.
NASA signed up for a spot on the mission, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Planetary Society and Celestis, which offers memorial flights into space.
An astronaut who flew on NASA’s first space station back in the 1970s — Skylab’s Bill Pogue, who died in 2014 — had some of his ashes on board, along with more than 150 other deceased people.
The payloads on the satellites include an atomic clock NASA is testing for space navigation, another testing new telescope technologies and a solar sail project partly funded by the Planetary Society, a nonprofit headed by Bill Nye, TV’s “Science Guy.”
With Post wires
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