Air Force Didn't Take Out SpaceX's GovSat Booster, Private Company Did (UPDATED WITH CORRECTION)

The flight-proven first stage which launched GovSat-1, floating in the ocean after conducting a very high retrothrust landing in water. SpaceX hoped to tow it back to shore, but called in the Air Force to blow it up instead. Credit: Elon Musk via Twitter

UPDATE 2/9/2018:

SpaceX issued a statement denying any USAF involvement, instead stating their rocket “broke apart”. Several trusted anonymous sources have since clarified that, while the USAF was considered for destroying the stage, SpaceX actually ended up hiring a private company to take care of it instead.

Read our update HERE.



On Jan 31, SpaceX launched SES-16/GovSat-1 into geostationary orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, one of the world’s largest and most powerful communications satellites. Coming three weeks after the much-publicized furore over the fate of its classified Zuma payload, Falcon 9 pulled off another nominal launch, SpaceX’s 48th since June 2010, and took the opportunity to conduct a landing test of the flight-proven first stage of the rocket.

“This rocket was meant to test very high retrothrust landing in water so it didn’t hurt the droneship, but amazingly it has survived,” said Elon Musk on Twitter shortly after the rocket splashed down in the Atlantic. “We will try to tow it back to shore.”

Rising against the clear blue Florida sky, the Upgraded Falcon 9 delivers SES-16/GovSat-1 to orbit. In the foreground is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

Thing is, SpaceX didn’t expect the booster to survive the splashdown in tact, but it did, making it easy to speculate that it’s a situation SpaceX didn’t have a contingency plan for. For example, things like un-safed COPVs (composite overwrapped pressure vessels) at flight pressure could have made it a ticking time bomb and hazard to navigation and marine life, being that they store a dangerous amount of energy if not vented.

Additionally, if circuitry onboard was fried by water after the booster splashed down, then there’s no way high-pressure areas could vent.

Whatever the case, trusted anonymous sources have confirmed to AmericaSpace that the U.S. Air Force carried out an air strike to blow up the unsafed floating booster.

In an inquiry to the U.S. Air Force, an Air Force Space Command spokesperson would not confirm or deny the strike, but instead asked that any and all booster queries go to SpaceX.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy first stage booster incoming on return to Earth for touchdown on Landing Zone-1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

AmericaSpace has reached out to SpaceX for comment, and will update accordingly if the company issues a statement.

At a press conference in early 2015 (skip to the 48:38 in THIS video), SpaceX’s Vice President for Mission Assurance, Hans Koenigsmann, said it takes crews 1-2 hours to safe the Falcon 9 stage remotely, before anyone could board their autonomous landing pad drone ships (ASDS) to access the landed booster. But that was three years ago, it’s anyone guess as to whether or not that is still true in 2018

Whatever the case, no vessels approached the rocket in the water while it was there, and SpaceX’s ‘Go Searcher’, one of the company’s work horses for supporting their drone ships to and from offshore landings, just arrived back in Port Canaveral after an engine issue – with no booster in tow.

Florida has many USAF assets which could have pulled off the mission, but seeing as the USAF will not comment, who knows what squadron may have conducted the strike, what aircraft was used and what munitions were dropped.

In the meantime, SpaceX just made more history with the debut of their Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful currently operational rocket by a factor of two.

Read all about it and check out some of our original imagery covering the mission HERE.



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