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.

ORIGINAL STORY BELOW (2/8/2018)

 

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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23 comments to Air Force Didn’t Take Out SpaceX’s GovSat Booster, Private Company Did (UPDATED WITH CORRECTION)

  • Tom D Perkins

    What the hell ? …

    One guy with a rifle would’ve done the job, if COPVs were the concern.

    I guess if salt water or time drained batteries needed for safing it, it begins to make sense.

  • james lewis

    The picture with the caption “A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster incoming on return to Earth”… is actually a Falcon Heavy side booster. There’s no interstage above the grid fins.

  • SteveG

    So, does SpaceX pay for the air strike and disposal costs?
    If not, it becomes a taxpayer subsidy.

    • Tom D Perkins

      Not if it came out of the training budget.

    • Drew

      According to the EWR 127-1 SpaceX pays for the air strike:

      1.6.1 Range Safety Funding
      Range Users and supporting agencies are responsible
      for full funding of activities associated with
      Range Safety support early in and throughout the
      program in accordance with funding requirements
      of DoDD 3200.11, AFR 80-29, AFI 99-110 at the
      ER and WR and 45 SWI 99-101 at the ER with the
      follow-on funding for each fiscal year to be received
      at the start of each fiscal year. Programs
      intending to perform launch operations at both the
      ER and WR shall fund both Ranges.

  • Aaron

    The Air Force is always looking for free training exercises. Would be a fun target.disposal part is easy, this stage is now a artificial reef like every other rocket in history that wasn’t reusable.

  • Tom D Perkins

    How to get gun camera footage?

    Look for the airplane with a rocket painted on the side. Look for pilots name.

    Trade for whiskey…

  • Ken

    Target Practice!

  • Joe

    To bad this is beyond fake and wrong with the date of launch and the name of the rocket. Cant belive people read your crap and belive you

    • Patty

      Fool, this isn’t about the Falcon Heavy center core it’s about the Falcon 9 which launched GOVSAT-1 and splashed down after launch Jan 31. AmericaSpace is a great source of information and accredited widely in the industry.

      Seems you’re just about as lost as anyone could possibly be.

  • james lewis

    Can’t believe you can’t spell ‘believe’ nor figure out how to use a spellchecker.

  • Mr Sarcasm

    Still, at least he’s mastered the use of the comma, the period, and the apostrophe. Or don’t you belive me?

  • james lewis

    Its not that i dont belive you its just that i love a good runon sentence unimpeded by punctuation

  • Paul Heckbert

    Why are you using “safe” and “unsafe” as verbs? (e.g. “blow up the unsafed floating booster”). They’re not verbs. Find another word to make your writing understandable.