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ORLANDO, Fla. - The battered center core booster of last week's SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch limped back to Port Canaveral on Thursday.

Despite a successful landing after the launch, the center booster was not able to stay upright on the drone ship's return to the port. Heavy seas knocked it over and it was seen on its side in a crumpled heap as it made its way into port this morning.

In only the second launch ever of the Falcon Heavy rocket, the initial success of the landing of the center core was a first, as the test launch of the massive rocket in 2018 that sent Elon Musk's Tesla roadster into deep space wasn't able to stick the landing.

The first commercial launch of a Falcon Heavy last Thursday saw both of its side boosters make successful landings back on Cape Canaveral, but also the center booster making its landing on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You."

But rough seas with eight- to 10-foot waves, the booster shifted on board the ship and tumbled. Unlike normal Falcon 9 launches that land its boosters at sea, the center core has a different configuration, and the system SpaceX uses to secure the boosters at sea was not able to be implemented.

The mission that launched April 11 from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A sent the Arabsat 6A communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.

Falcon 9 missions are used for low Earth orbit.

The Falcon Heavy uses 27 engines firing at once with the potential to launch 141,000 pounds into space. The demonstration launch that flew on Feb. 6, 2018 sent Musk's Tesla with driver Starman, dressed in a SpaceX space suit, on a trajectory that sent it beyond Mars toward the asteroid belt.

That launch was the largest rocket to take off from Earth since the Apollo program.

The spectacle of both that initial Falcon Heavy launch as well as this first commercial launch has brought thousands of spectators to Cape Canaveral.

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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