Hell of a day yesterday for SpaceX and their CRS-16 mission.
All in all, the off-nominal landing was just about the best—and coolest-looking!—failure SpaceX could hope to experience. They’re getting the booster back intact for inspections that will lead to learning something new, and they proved out their off-nominal landing procedures.
They are in need of a good example of their flight safety procedures, and while the event will surely be used by some to criticize SpaceX and their operations, anyone looking to give an honest assessment of the situation will come away impressed with the flight operations yesterday.
More importantly, we learned this tidbit from the post-launch briefing (via Jeff Foust of SpaceNews):
Koenigsmann also revealed at the briefing that the rocket’s upper stage, which successfully placed the Dragon cargo spacecraft in orbit, used redesigned composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store helium to pressurize the stage’s propellant tanks. SpaceX redesigned those COPVs after a September 2016 pad explosion in order to meet NASA safety requirements for future commercial crew missions.
NASA requires SpaceX to perform at least seven launches with the redesigned COPVs before the agency will allow its astronauts to fly on the vehicle. Koenigsmann said he believed this was the second launch to use the redesigned COPVs, after the launch of the Es’hail-2 communications satellite Nov. 15.
The new COPV flight schedule has been a bit of a mystery, but this is really encouraging.