SpaceX has come a long way since it started operating nearly 20 years ago.
From the very beginning, its plan was to lower the cost of space travel by creating a launch vehicle whose parts could be reused — including the rocket’s first stage, the spacecraft, and the fairing that sits atop the rocket and houses payloads.
After years of hard work, engineers at the California-based company have pretty much nailed the landing procedure for its Falcon 9 first-stage booster, with SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft also heading out on multiple missions.
Falcon 9 fairing recovery
While SpaceX tends to say less about the fairing, the company has just revealed that its latest Starlink satellite mission, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 26, marked the first time for a fairing half to fly on a fifth mission. The component’s first space trip took place in 2019. The rocket’s other fairing half, meanwhile, was on its third mission. SpaceX added that Wednesday’s mission was also the 40th time it had reflown Falcon 9 fairing halves since November 2019.
When you consider that a Falcon 9 fairing is worth around $6 million, it’s easy to see why SpaceX is keen to reuse it.
Earlier Falcon 9 launches saw both halves of the rocket fairing fall into the sea, with a boat-based team having to haul them out of the water a short while later. But the impact and salt water can damage the components, so SpaceX designed a ship with a giant net to catch the fairing halves.
Although a GPS-equipped, steerable parafoil (similar to a parachute) helps to take the fairing piece toward the ship, it’s still a tricky procedure to land it directly on the net. Following several failed efforts, SpaceX first achieved the feat of catching a fairing half in June 2019. About 12 months later, it managed to catch both halves on two different ships for the first time. You can watch both catches in the videos below.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 21, 2020
Since then, the company has been refining the procedure to make it more reliable so it can finally bring an end to the fishing expeditions.
SpaceX has also been having success with its next-generation rocket, Starship, with the vehicle recently making its first safe landing following a high-altitude test flight.