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.
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.
SpaceX pulled off a long-sought rocket-reusability milestone during the Falcon Heavy launch on June 25th.
What is a rocket payload fairing?
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.
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.
An earlier practice run with SpaceX’s retrieval vessel trying to catch a rocket fairing dropped by a helicopter.
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