It’s become routine for SpaceX to launch its own Falcon 9 rockets with Starlink broadband satellites aboard. A Falcon 9 rocket launched a new batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit late on Monday, February 15. While the launch went off without a hitch, and the second stage with the satellites aboard continued functioning normally, the Falcon 9 booster recovery failed.
Jessica Anderson, a SpaceX engineer who was offering live launch commentary, noted that “we did not land our booster on Of Course I Still Love You,” which is an autonomous drone ship operating in the ocean. While it was unfortunate SpaceX was unable to recover the booster, Anderson said the second stage was still on a nominal trajectory.
The company has always been clear that while it wants to recover its Falcon 9 rockets for reuse, delivering the flight payload into orbit is always the primary mission. The booster that was unable to be recovered is known as B1059 and had been used on two different SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply missions to the ISS, including CRS-19 in December 2019 and CRS-20 in March 2020.
The now missing booster also pushed a Starlink mission into orbit last June along with an Argentinian satellite in August and a spy satellite for the United States government in December. The launch last night was the first of two planned Starlink launches within a week, with another 60 Starlink satellites scheduled to head into orbit as early as Wednesday, February 17, using a different Falcon 9.
SpaceX adopted the fast launch pace after recently having to change Starlink missions up due to weather and hardware-related issues. At this time, it’s unclear exactly what went wrong with the attempted recovery of the Falcon 9 rocket.