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Home » Innovation » NICE CATCH: SpaceX Catches Rocket Nose Fairing At Sea!

NICE CATCH: SpaceX Catches Rocket Nose Fairing At Sea!

SpaceX faring recover boat Mr Steven returns to the Port of Los Angeles after a day of sea trials where it tryed to catch a faring dropped from a helicopter off the back side of Catalina Island Friday January 25, 2019 Photo By Chuck Bennett

PortandTerminal, July 3, 2019

After more than 18 months of hard work, SpaceX has successfully caught a Falcon fairing in its retrieval vessel’s net for the first time, a huge milestone along the road to payload fairing reusability.

SpaceX’s net-equipped retrieval ship, which is called “Ms Tree” (previously called Mr Steven), caught the rocket’s falling payload fairing off the Florida coast in the early hours of the morning on June 25th, SpaceX representatives said. Its mission was a complete success and it achieved it in the dark no less.

Elon Musk’s excited Tweet announcing that the retrieval vessel Ms. Tree had caught the Falcon Heavy’s fairing

This was a first for the “Ms Tree” retrieval vessel, which had come close on multiple occasions but had never managed successfully to catch the fairing.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying 24 satellites as part of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission launches from Launch Complex 39A, Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Photo: Joel Kowsky,/NASA)

SpaceX pulled off a long-sought rocket-reusability milestone during the Falcon Heavy launch on June 25th.

What is a rocket payload fairing?

Rocket payload fairings (as shown above as two long parts with white exteriors) are the nose cone covering on the top of the rocket

When a rocket launches with a payload (like a satellite), it needs a fairing. The fairing, essentially the rocket’s nose cone, is the covering on top of the payload that makes the spacecraft aerodynamic as it speeds through the Earth’s atmosphere. But once the rocket gets past most of this air, it doesn’t need the fairing—it becomes extra weight. So the fairing gets ejected and it falls back to Earth.

Fairings are expensive. For the Falcon Heavy rocket, they can cost about $6 million each so the ability to catch and reuse a fairing consistently would be a major cost-saving.

Ms. Tree

Ms. Tree is a marine vessel being used as a platform for recovery of the SpaceX reusable rocket payload fairings. The ship is fitted with four large arms which support an elevated horizontal net, similar to a giant trampoline or trapeze net. (SpaceX image)

Equipped with a giant net, the 202 foot (62 metres) long ship is designed to catch the nose cone (fairing) of the rocket as it descends to Earth via parachute.

The giant net on the boat is stretched across four-angled beams, like a giant catcher’s mitt, and as the fairing drops to Earth it uses an onboard guidance system to find its way to the ship.

Watch

An earlier practice run with SpaceX’s retrieval vessel trying to catch a rocket fairing dropped by a helicopter.

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