A SpaceX Rocket Washed Up in England After 14 Months at Sea

The interstage section of SpaceX’s September 2014 resupply mission has shown up off the coast of Cornwall.

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Nov 27 2015, 4:07pm

Image: James Druce, Dean Whillis, Rob Featherstone, Tresco Island

The remains of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket were found floating off the coast of the Isles of Scilly last night, adorned in a year's worth of barnacles and seaweed.

The discovery sparked an exuberant online effort by members of the subreddit r/SpaceX to identify the rocket, spurred by photos posted by Scilly resident James Druce.

"The brilliant detective work put in by them was just amazing," Druce told me over email. "Some of the clues found were tiny—different shaped panels and the placement of fittings. I highly doubt the wreckage would have been properly identified without them!"

Indeed, thanks to the community's efforts, the equipment has been provisionally pegged as the interstage module—the section linking the first and second stage rocket engines—of the cargo resupply mission SpaceX CRS-4. Launched on September 21, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, CRS-4 was a success, delivering its payload of food, supplies, and experimental equipment—including a 3D printer—to the International Space Station on September 23.

But while the Dragon capsule safely parachuted back to Earth on October 25, the rocket portion was never meant to be recovered. SpaceX has ambitious long-term plans to create reusable launch vehicles, but at the moment, all stages of the Falcon 9 are still expendable, and are discarded into the ocean as the rocket gains altitude.

Usually, that's the last anyone hears of these mighty blasters, though some Saturn V stages were recently exhumed from their seafloor graves and Falcon 9 wreckage has previously been recovered from the Bahamas. Likewise, it turns out that the journey of the CRS-4 interstage did not end with splashdown. Over the last 14 odd months, the rocket floated all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, picking up all kinds of aquatic hitch hikers along the way, until it was finally pulled ashore by local Scilly boatman Joseph Thomas yesterday. Talk about an epic catch.

CRS-4 interstage recovery. Image: James Druce, Dean Whillis, Rob Featherstone, Tresco Island

At the moment, it's unclear what the fate of the module will be going forward, and many people are eagerly flagging Elon Musk and SpaceX online for a response. But Druce, for his part, hopes that the interstage might become a part of Scilly's rich oceanic heritage, should SpaceX decide not to reclaim it.

"Tresco Abbey Gardens has an amazing and beautiful display of wrecked ship figureheads, called 'Valhalla,'" he said. "It would be brilliant to display it there—pieces of wrecked ship, from both the naval age and the space age, all ending up on Scilly."