SpaceX increases naval fleet

SpaceX has had something of a maritime fleet from its beginnings. Its ‘Of course I still love you’ floating barge has been the landing stage for many of …
August 15, 2019

SpaceX has had something of a maritime fleet from its beginnings. Its ‘Of course I still love you’ floating barge has been the landing stage for many of SpaceX flights. The second floating barge, with the giant text message saying “Just read the instructions” does a similar job usually on the Pacific.

Elon Musk’s team also had a vessel that was deliberately equipped to recover the expensive rocket fairings by means of a giant net. The vessel was called ‘Mr Steven’ and it operated on both the Atlantic and Pacific, shuttling through the Panama Canal like a ferry boat!

Musk renamed GO Mr Steven, and he – because all ships are ‘she’ – became GO Ms Tree. Then along came another vessel, named Ms Chief.

These names are reportedly drawn from Ms Tree sounding like Mystery, and Ms Chief sounding like Mischief. The ‘GO’ element is because the vessels were sourced from Guice Offshore.

Their role is to – together with a mini fleet of other recovery vessels: to catch, or recover, rocket fairings that are valued at some $5-$6 million for each pair.

Each fairing is equipped with small thrusters which help guide them to the target ocean ‘landing’ area. The fairings also each have a parachute to slow their fall, and aid a successful capture.

The boats are each 62m length x 10m beam, and have decks certified for loads of up to 400 metric tonnes. They have top speeds of 26-32 knots (50-60 km/h).

The math for SpaceX is straightforward. Even if the two ships cost – say – $10 million each, then that $20 million invested would be recovered in 4-5 successful ‘captures’ and offset the building of new fairings. Subsequent captures would be highly profitable. Even if the vessels cost twice as much the profit kicks in at about 10 captures.

Elon Musk needs to see plenty of success in these fairing capture tasks – as well as the floating drone vessels – when he starts launching his extensive ‘Starlink’ multiple satellite launches.

Watch SpaceX catch its rocket fairing in a massive net

Tweeting early on Sunday night, SpaceX boss Elon Musk posted a video of SpaceX’s net-equipped ship M. Tree perfectly positioning itself below the …

After a number of delays due to hardware issues as well as bad weather, SpaceX finally managed to send the AMOS-17 communications satellite into Earth orbit last night. The mission went well, with the SpaceX Falcon 9 completing its third mission, but due to the nature of this particular launch, it wasn’t possible for the company to recover its rocket stage a third time.

However, that didn’t stop SpaceX from recovering another valuable piece of its high-tech hardware. The nosecone fairing is something that the company has been trying to catch and reuse for some time, and it finally snagged one for the first time back in late June. Now, SpaceX has done it again, and we have video of the catch to prove it.

Tweeting early on Sunday night, SpaceX boss Elon Musk posted a video of SpaceX’s net-equipped ship M. Tree perfectly positioning itself below the slowly-descending nosecone, allowing it to gently fall into its huge net:

Rocket fairing falls from space & is caught by Ms Tree boat

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2019

SpaceX has spent many months trying to perfect the art of catching its rocket fairings, and it’s had no shortage of problems along the way. The awkward shape of the nosecone halves makes it hard to predict their path, and many failures shaped the design of the chute system that the fairings are now equipped with.

SpaceX’s reusable rocket technology has proven itself already, with the company sending many of the first stages of its Falcon 9s into space multiple times. Doing so can dramatically shorten the turnaround time between launches while also allowing the company to offer its services at a lower cost.

Catching and reusing its nosecones isn’t as big of a deal, but it can still help the company’s business model and potentially lower costs even further, but only if SpaceX can make a habit of catching them without issue.

Image Source: Terry Renna/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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Watch: SpaceX Boat Catches Rocket Nose Falling From Sky

GO Ms. Tree, a SpaceX boat, caught a falling Falcon 9 rocket fairing in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 6. (Photo Credit: Elon Musk / Twitter) …

Late Tuesday night, GO Ms. Tree, a SpaceX boat, caught half of the nose cone of its Falcon 9 rocket for the second time and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted the cool “save at sea” footage on Twitter.

For the last 18 months, SpaceX has made catching fairings a major priority for space missions, The Verge reported. Fairings, structures that surround payloads and satellites that Falcon 9 rockets carry, protect these important objects during launches. Even though they typically break into two in space, descend back to Earth, and aren’t always retrieved, Musk said the company does the opposite.

Rocket fairing falls from space & is caught by Ms Tree boat

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2019

“Imagine you had $6 million in cash in a palette flying through the air, and it’s going to smash into the ocean,” Musk explained at a 2018 press conference. “Would you try to recover that? Yes. Yes, you would.”


— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 6, 2019

Tuesday’s video, which was shared to Twitter, shows the fairing gently landing into the SpaceX boat’s net in the Atlantic Ocean. The fairing fell from the sky roughly 75 minutes after the Amos-17 communications satellite launched atop the Falcon 9 rocket, noted. Formerly called Mr. Steven, GO Ms. Tree, the SpaceX boat, helps protect the fairing from saltwater, which could deteriorate its structure and make it difficult to reuse in the future.

On Aug. 6, the Amos-17 satellite and Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station around 7:23 p.m. EST. The Amos-17 satellite will provide satellite communication services to Africa, according to the mission’s webpage. There wasn’t a third landing for the Falcon 9 rocket, since Amos-17 was a big satellite that needed to reach a very far orbit, resulting in the booster not having enough fuel left over to safely return to our planet.

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Watch SpaceX Catch a Falcon 9 Part on the Dark Seas in AMOS-17 Mission

As SpaceX gears up to send humans to Mars, before establishing them as a planet-hopping species, its rocket-reusing technology will form an integral …

A few minutes after 8 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, SpaceX’s ship waited in the water. The glowing lamps of the ship Ms. Tree lit up the Atlantic Ocean waters in lieu of the sun, as it waited for a component of SpaceX’s rocket to return to Earth.

Gradually, the fairing floated down toward the ship. As it touched down on the net, it marked another step in SpaceX’s journey to make rockets as reusable as possible.

“Strangers in the night,” Musk posted on Twitter in response to the feat, referencing the Frank Sinatra song.

The fairing, used to protect the rocket’s payload, only represents around $6 million of the $62 million costs associated with launching a Falcon 9 rocket. But while SpaceX has gradually perfected its technology to recover the $45.5 million booster, the fairing had remained elusive until recently.

As SpaceX gears up to send humans to Mars, before establishing them as a planet-hopping species, its rocket-reusing technology will form an integral part of the process.

AMOS-17 lifting off.
AMOS-17 lifting off.

SpaceX Fairing: How the AMOS-17 Mission Paves the Way for Bigger Challenges

SpaceX’s 10th mission of 2019 experienced a slight delay. The AMOS-17 mission used a Falcon 9 rocket, which underwent a preparatory static test fire on August 1. That firing revealed a “suspect valve” that the team replaced, leading to a second static test firing on August 4.

The rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 6 at 7:23 p.m. Eastern time. As a testament to SpaceX’s booster recovery abilities, this Falcon 9 booster had flown on two previous missions. The first was for the July 2018 Telstar-19 mission, and the second the Es’hail-2 mission in November 2018. SpaceX did not try to recover the booster for this third mission.

At the 31-minute mark after liftoff, SpaceX deployed the satellite. The Spacecom satellite uses Boeing technology to increase connectivity in Africa, orbiting over central Africa to provide service for at least 20 years. The launch comes three years after a previous mission between SpaceX and Spacecom, AMOS-6, exploded on the launchpad. That incident “deeply disappointed” Mark Zuckerberg, whose company Facebook planned to use the satellite as part of its plans to beam satellite internet to Africa. Spacecom used credit from the failed AMOS-6 mission to cover the cost of this week’s AMOS-17 mission.

After the deployment, SpaceX faced its next major challenge: catching the fairing.

The company had only ever caught a fairing half in a mission once before, last month during the Space Test Program-2 mission. Ms. Tree, originally dubbed Mr. Steven, had been deployed with four giant metal arms holding the net. As bright blue particles heated up during its descent, the fairing struck an impressive blue hue in captured footage.

The ship is classed as a fast supply vessel, meaning it’s capable at moving 400 metric tons of cargo at speeds of up to 27 mph. Its predecessor never managed to catch a fairing, however, leading the company to add a net four times larger than its predecessor to reach 0.9 acres.

The upgrades seem to have worked. Less than one month after Ms. Tree caught the STP-2 fairing, the ship successfully stepped up to the challenge and caught the AMOS-17 component.

Over the years, SpaceX has quickly moved to recover more and more of the Falcon 9 rocket. In 2013 it tried to recover its first booster, but failed. In 2017 it tried to and successfully recovered 15 boosters, a 100 percent success rate. With another fairing recovery under its belt, the age of the fully-reusable rocket is almost here.

“Often I’ll be told, ‘But you can get more payload if you made it expendable’,” Musk told the audience at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, in September 2017. “I say, ‘Yes, you could also get more payload from an aircraft if you got rid of the landing gear and the flaps and just parachuted out when you got to your destination, but that would be crazy and you would sell zero aircraft.’”

Not too far from the AMOS-17 launch, SpaceX is working on the next project that could put its reusable rocket technologies to good use. The Starship, a stainless steel rocket under construction in Florida and Texas, is designed to carry the first humans to Mars on a manned mission. It uses liquid oxygen and methane as its fuel, enabling humans to set up a propellant depot and create the fuel to return home.

As Ms. Tree floated on the water out at sea, it sat under a night sky that could one day host the ship that takes humanity further than it’s ever travelled.

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SpaceX Didn’t Land A Rocket Last Night, But They Did Catch The Fairing

Last night’s Amos-17 communications satellite launch was a bit unusual compared to most SpaceX launches. No attempt was made to land the …

Last night’s Amos-17 communications satellite launch was a bit unusual compared to most SpaceX launches. No attempt was made to land the rocket’s first stage. But that doesn’t mean SpaceX’s trademark reusability wasn’t felt throughout the launch.

While the first stage didn’t land back on Earth, the company did manage to catch the rocket’s fairing (nose cone) with its speedy ship GO Ms. Tree (formerly known as Mr. Steven, the name change happened after the ship was sold to Guice Offshore).

Elon Musk jumped on Twitter early this morning to share the news.

Rocket fairing falling from space (higher res)

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2019

That’s $6 million worth of hardware slowly floating towards GO Ms. Tree. What we don’t see in frame are the control thrusters also used to help steer the fairing towards the boat. It’s more complicated than strapping a set of parachutes and driving the boat to the right spot. Thrusters, a guidance system, parachutes, and a fast boat all come together to catch the fairing.

Last night’s catch is the second successful retrieval of a Falcon 9 fairing. The first happened back in June. SpaceX engineers will be going over both of them to see how they’ll need to be refurbished to hit the skies again.

Last night’s first stage didn’t land, but it also wasn’t its first trip to space. In fact, it was the third. The first stage did some of the heavy lifting for the Telstar-19 VANTAGE mission in July 2018 and the Es’hail-2 mission in November 2018. Let’s take a look back at those landings.

This Falcon 9’s third launch was also its final because the communications satellite weighed 6.5 tons and needed to be placed in geostationary transfer orbit. Amos also received this launch for free after a static test failure in 2016 destroyed the Amos-6 satellite.

When’s the next SpaceX launch? Exact dates are hard to come by right now, but it looks like November and December launches are planned.

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