CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – On Thursday (June 27), spectators here decked the coastline of Port Canaveral as SpaceX's first rescue fleet returned home. On the deck of the ship, wrapped in a blue tarpaulin, sat the first payload fairing caught in the air.
The disguise was torn from the sky early Tuesday morning (June 25) by SpaceX's 'powered-out' vessel, GO Ms. Tree, shortly after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy missile.
Payload fairings are designed to protect satellites at take-off. SpaceX panels are made up of two halves that are dropped when their rocket reaches space. Together, the two parts cost about $ 6 million – a huge part of the total cost of the rocket. (Booking a launch of Falcon Heavy currently costs at least $ 90 million and $ 62 million for SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.)
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[Photo credit: Amy Thompson / Space.com]
SpaceX is already using its first-stage rocket boosters, but plans to extend its recycling efforts to the fairings, further reducing start-up costs. To do this, the California-based aerospace company equips both halves of the fairing with parachutes and small control rudders to navigate back to Earth and into the GO Ms. Tree network. (According to SpaceX commentators, the ship captured just one of the two fairing halves on Tuesday.)
GO Ms. Tree may sound unfamiliar, but SpaceX has been using the ship for some time. The ship used to have a different name – Mr. Steven. And the nickname is not the only thing that has changed. GO Ms Tree has recently received a new network and paint job.
Goodbye Mr. Steven, hello Mrs. Tree
A company called Guice Offshore (GO) rents the salvage ship from SeaTran, but the name is changing (and new paint scheme) are good signs that the company is the ship possibly bought directly.
Last week, SpaceX enthusiasts discovered Mr. Steven, docked in the harbor and deprived of his identity. Ship labels on ship tracking sites also indicated that it was a name change.
There is a little mystery behind the new name of Ms. Tree. The ship was originally built for SeaTran Marine and christened after the father of the CEO, Steven Miguez, Mr. Steven. However, SeaTran filed for bankruptcy last year to protect its fleet.
GO, SpaceX's primary fleet manager on both coasts, owns and operates nine boats, three of which are leased to SpaceX (GO Quest, GO Searcher, and GO Navigator) , Obviously, GO could also acquire the Catcher, especially as the ship was renamed to coincide with the rest of its fleet.
The ship, which is 205 feet long and 34 feet wide (62 by 10 meters), joined the SpaceX rescue fleet in 2017. Under the original code name, Mr. Steven, the ship sailed on a scene with four arms outstretched, resembling a giant claw with a net lined up in between.
After the company's Falcon 9 rocket had launched a Spanish radar satellite into space in February 2018, a falling fairing half landed in the ship's huge net, much like a baseball in a catcher's mitt. At least SpaceX hoped that would happen.
This first attempt failed a few hundred meters, but SpaceX did not give up. The masquerader dared to return to the sea for three more attempts. Although none of these attempts ended with a successful catch, SpaceX seized the opportunity to gather important data that would help the company look to the future.
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When panels fall back to earth, they typically become metal scrap when exposed to water or exposed to salt water. Elon Musk has repeatedly referred to the corrosiveness of salt water, explaining that the company wants to cut costs by saving on the renovation work that goes through each panel half after landing in the sea. And here comes Mrs Tree into play.
SpaceX spent nearly two years testing Net-Ship technology during selected launches and numerous drop tests. The ship has undergone many design changes, including three different sets of weapons and four nets. (One set was severely damaged when the high seas thwarted the ship's first attempt at recovery on the East Coast earlier this year.)
The successful stunt on Tuesday is over after one and a half years of attempt and failure. So far, none of the disguises has been able to plug their landings into Ms. Tree's outstretched network, even though the company has recovered several from the ocean.
After recovery (without taking a bath in the Atlantic), the hardware can be reused in a future flight. So far, the company has not reviewed any panels, but Musk said the equipment will be reused in the launch of SpaceX's Starlink Internet satellites. That could expand into more missions, especially if Ms. Tree continues to restore her.