SpaceX finally catches part of a rocket nosecone using its giant boat-mounted net after several previous attempts were sunk into the ocean
- SpaceX has successfully caught one of its rocket fairings in a giant net
- Half of nosecone dropped from the Falcon Heavy and was guided safely to Earth
- The other half of the rocket fairing fell into the sea but will still be recovered
- Mission success marks a boon for the company’s efforts to re-use rocket parts
For the first time ever, SpaceX has caught part of a rocket fairing blasted off during the Falcon Heavy rocket launch – allowing them to reuse the precious, $6 million piece of equipment, rather than building it again.
Using a giant net mounted on top of a sea ship in the Atlantic, the company was able to recover half of the nosecone from its rocket after plowing into space and successfully dropping off 24 military satellites.
The boat, once called Mr Stevens but recently renamed Ms. Tree, caught the fairing half after it separated from the rocket and plummeted back down to Earth.
The second half fell into the ocean, befalling a similar fate of many of its kin.
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SpaceX has successfully landed one its rocket parts into a giant net in a huge boon for the company’s quest to re-use its rocket parts
Until early Tuesday morning, SpaceX has been trying for about a year to accomplish the feat to no avail.
The nosecone is not only a crucial instrument in protecting cargo aboard the powerful rocket – it shrouds payloads and prevents them from burning up during flight – but is also fairly expensive.
Just one of the cones costs about $6 million – a price tag that gave rise to an apt analogy by SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, last year.
‘Imagine you had $6 million in cash in a palette flying through the air, and it’s going to smash into the ocean,’ Musk said during a press conference last year as reported by The Verge.
‘Would you try to recover that? Yes. Yes, you would.’
To guide the fairing into the net, SpaceX uses a combination of on-board thrusters and an attached parachute to accomplish a type of steering.
Several past attempts using this method have been unsuccessful, with nosecones missing the boat and net entirely and dropping straight into the ocean.
The unsuccessful attempts and an accident that caused one of the previous ship’s arm booms to break eventually prompted the company to make the net bigger.
While SpaceX was still able to recover fairings that inadvertently dropped into the ocean, the damage caused by the instruments’ wet landing far outweighs a graceful fall into a cushy net.
The company hopes that landing them safely aboard Ms. Tree will increase the likelihood that they the nosecones can be reclaimed and reused in future missions. SpaceX has will assess the state of the cone in the weeks to follow.
If the mission to reclaim the fairing is marked a success, it would represent a boon for future SpaceX launches, particularly those of its Starlink project to launch thousands of internet satellites into low-Earth orbit.
In a recent tweet, Musk said that the company is already gearing up for a massive production ramp up of its powerful Raptor engine, aided in part by decreasing costs.
As production scales up, Musk said that the Raptor’s price will lower dramatically, from about $2 million per unit now to $200,000.
Production scale coupled with the components’ ability to be re-used, could see the price per ton of force generated by the engine come down to just $1, said Musk.
WHAT SATELLITES WERE ON BOARD THE FALCON HEAVY LAUNCH?
The Falcon Heavy is carrying satellites for universities, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Planetary Society.
Six NOAA satellites make up the Cosmic-2 mission, which will monitor the temperature, pressure and moisture of the atmosphere across the tropics.
This data should help meteorologists improve their hurricane and tropical storm modelling.
The rocket is also carrying a deep space atomic clock, a solar sail, clean and green fuel, and even human ashes.
There is another testing new telescope technologies, and a solar sail project part-funded by the Planetary Society.
The remains being placed on board the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed, one of 24 satellites Falcon Heavy is carrying.
After the boosters separated safely, the craft began its six-hour mission to deploy the 24 satellites on-board.
This is a partnership between NOAA, the U.S. Air Force (USAF), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).
This six-satellite constellation will provide Global Navigational Satellite System Radio Occultation (GNSS-RO) data.
This data is collected by measuring the changes in a radio signal as it is refracted in the atmosphere, allowing temperature and moisture to be determined.
The Green Propellant Infusion Mission, or GPIM, is a NASA mission that develops a ‘green’ alternative to conventional spacecraft propulsion systems.
Oculus was developed by students at the Michigan Technological University in Houghton to determine spacecraft altitude and configuration using optical imagery.
General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems’ Orbital Test Bed (OTB) is a ‘hosting’ model to test and qualify technologies.
OTB hosts several payloads for technology demonstration, including the Deep Space Atomic Clock designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NPSat will investigate space weather and support space situational awareness (SSA).
Prox-1 is a microsat developed by students at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta which will demonstrate satellite close proximity operations and rendez vous.