SpaceX’s rocket booster survived descent despite no landing attempt

SpaceX flew a mission today that didn’t include a controlled recovery attempt of the Falcon 9 booster involved in the launch. Even still, the first stage survived the return to Earth pretty much intact, and the company will now try to recover it from the Atlantic Ocean to see what kind of shape it’s in.

SpaceX did fire the rocket’s retro thrusters, as it does during a controlled landing when it tries to sit the booster upright either on land or on one of its ocean-borne ships, but it did so very high in the air, with the sole intent of making sure the rocket would avoid colliding at high impact with its mobile landing pads.

The unintended consequence of that action is that the rocket appears to be intact, floating on the ocean surface — and potentially even ready for refurbishment and reuse. If recoverable, this could set the stage for a third flight for this particular booster.

SpaceX might also want to look into replicating these results in the future. It could be less costly and challenging to recover boosters this way than via controlled descent, after all — provided they can consistently come back in decent shape.