SpaceX is aiming to radically reduce the cost of space exploration. One of their main ways to achieve this ambitious goal is to make reusable rockets. Rockets, as you can imagine are pretty expensive, so being able to use parts of them more than once, make a lot of financial sense.
The California based startup has pretty much perfected the re-landing its first-stage booster. But it is having trouble figuring out how to recover their rockets fairings.
The fairing is otherwise known as the nose cone of the rockets. Its main job is to protect the payload during launch. SpaceX's method for recovering their nosecones requires the use of a ship called Mr. Steven.
One of Mr. Steven’s final West Coast fairing recovery tests before shipping out for the East Coast. Wait for it… pic.twitter.com/A7q37Gpllu— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 30, 2019
Mr. Steven acts like a floating baseball glove
Mr. Steven is decked out with a giant net stretched across it, the ship is designed to sail into the path of the falling rocket part and collect it before it splashes into the water. The nose cone actually falls in two pieces but SpaceX is going to perfect catching just one part before they invest in a second ship.
Looking at a video SpaceX released this week, they are getting really close to catching the fairing - but not quite.Mr. Steven is a 62 meters long and 10 meters wide, last year its net got a size upgrade so that ist now four times bigger than its original capacity, it currently covers about 3,700 square meters.
Reusable rockets the only way to make space cheap
The fairing is about 13 meters tall and 5 meters wide and weighs about 1,000 kilograms. Each section of the fairing is equipped with cold nitrogen thrusters, that helps them slow down and stabilize during their descent.
Each one is equipped with GPS-equipped, steerable parafoil that is then used to guide the hefty piece of equipment into the waiting arms of the net.
Unfortunately, this seemingly foolproof plan is yet to work, and all attempts at recovery have resulted in the nose of the rocket in the water.
At 6 million USD a piece the motivation to catch and reuse it is pretty high. Saltwater damages the rocket making it unusable. In their latest test attempt SpaceX come oh so close to removing the fairing, it touches down on the next, but Mr. Stevens acceleration block to cause it to slip off the back and end with a splash.
SpaceX slash staff
Knowing how dogged SpaceX has been about achieving their near-impossible mission it looks like it won’t be long before Mr. Steven is smoothly catching all future fairings.
They are likely particularly motivated to master the recapture as money seems tight over at SpaceX where they recently announced they would cut 10% of its workforce in order to streamline costs.