SpaceX on Monday evening successfully launched its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.
In a rare instance by its current track record, however, it lost a rocket booster in the process.
The company’s B1059 Falcon 9 first stage booster missed its intended target for landing – the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship – and ended up crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.
While SpaceX is yet to confirm the cause of the failure, it is suspected that an issue occurred near the end of the booster’s landing burn, sending it off course.
Aside from the landing, however, the mission was a success, with the latest payload of Internet-beaming satellites deployed into orbit.
This brings the number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 1,145. In order to reach SpaceX’s first goal of 1,440 satellites, it will have to complete at least another five launches.
Remarkably, this was SpaceX’s first failure to land a rocket booster in 25 launches, with the last mishap occurring on 18 March 2020.
In that case, the booster had shut down prematurely towards the end of the first stage burn, due to residual cleaning fluid trapped inside a sensor.
SpaceX’s next Starlink launch scheduled for Wednesday was postponed, presumably due to the landing failure.
Saving on costs
The company’s ability to reuse parts of its spacecraft systems is key to its mission of making space travel more affordable and commercially attractive.
Musk has previously said the first stage makes up around 60% of the total costs of the spacecraft, so being able to land and reuse this section without major refurbishments saves millions of dollars.
A Falcon 9 launch typically costs $62 million, and SpaceX has promised it will be able to reduce this by as much as 30% due to its use of reusable rockets.
By comparison, the average launch cost of the Space Shuttle programme was around $450 million.
Below is a full video of the latest Starlink mission from launch to the deployment of the satellites.