The failed landing was the first time in about a year that SpaceX has lost one of its Falcon 9 rocket boosters, which the company has become accustomed to landing and reusing in order to save money.
The botched booster landing did not affect the overall success of the mission, which delivered 60 satellites into orbit for the company’s forthcoming Starlink internet business. SpaceX’s primary mission on Monday, to put its 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, brought the company’s internet constellation up to a total of nearly 1,100 satellites. About 10,000 beta testers are already using an early version of the $99 per-month service, and most of them have given rave reviews in online forums.
It’s not clear why the booster failed to hit its target. During webcasts of one of its launches, SpaceX typically shows its boosters steering to a landing pad and firing their engines to slow their descent for a pinpoint landing. But on Monday, SpaceX aired footage of an empty platform with a few wayward birds hanging around, and no rocket in sight. “It does look like we did not land our booster…It’s unfortunate,” said Jessica Anderson, a SpaceX engineer, while hosting Monday’s webcast.
The first-stage booster is the largest and most expensive portion of the rocket. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said the first stage booster accounts for roughly 60% of the price of building a new Falcon 9 rocket, which the company advertises as a $62 million launch vehicle. SpaceX’s efforts to reuse the boosters have set the company apart from competitors around the globe, most of whom willingly leave rocket boosters to plunge to a watery grave after their fuel is spent.
SpaceX envisions Starlink will drastically alter how consumers — particularly in rural areas — access the internet. But whether or not Starlink will become a sustainable business remains to be seen. Musk noted in a tweet last week that the company “needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cash flow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable.”