December 18, 2019. • Evelyn J. Arevalo
Featured Image Source: Kyle Montgomery /Via Twitter @Kyle_M_Photo
SpaceX aims to develop a spacecraft recovery system to reuse their rockets because a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the key to significantly reduce manufacturing and operational costs. Also, in order to achieve their goal of transforming us into a spacefaring civilization, spacecraft that can be as reusable as cars and airplanes is a vital necessity. They are actively working on creating a rocket recovery system to bring some Falcon 9 rocket parts back to Earth in order to be reused again. Other rocket companies discard entire crafts or create more space junk with their rocket parts left in orbit. SpaceX is working to change that in the aerospace industry, so far they have done an amazing job at developing technology used in rocket recovery. Engineering teams have already developed orbital-class rockets that can come back from space to land vertically both in launch pads on the ground and on autonomous droneships at sea. They have been successful in recovering the rocket's first stage 47 times --A first in the history of rocketry!
Now, the company aims to recover another rocket part -the fairing (a.k.a: nose cone), which is the payload section of a rocket, located at the very top. The fairing opens in half to deploy the payload into orbit.
Image of fairing -June 2018
SpaceX developed a system where both fairing halves have small steering thrusters and parachutes to soft land into the ocean. In order to avoid creating more space junk, they bring the fairing back to Earth. SpaceX wants to start using these recovered fairings on future missions because this part of the rocket can save them $6 million per mission that is approximately 10% of the total cost of a launch.
Yesterday, December 18, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket deploying the JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 communications satellite into geostationary orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. They successfully recovered the Falcon 9 rocket booster that had been flown for the third time, which proved their technology enables reusability. They also attempted the fairing recovery using two twin ships, named Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief.
Each ship is equipped with four arms and a giant net strung in between where the fairing halves can land as they fall back to Earth. Saltwater is extremely corrosive, so keeping the fairing halves dry, rather than letting them splash down into the ocean is better to reuse.
The ships did not catch the fairing halves this time around, instead fairing halves soft landed with their integrated parachutes into the ocean. [Read: SpaceX lifts off the JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 communications satellite into orbit]
Today, December 19, the fairing halves were recovered brought back home to Cape Canaveral along with the twin recovery ships.
SpaceX has been successful twice before in recovering fairings with the ships, both in June and August of this year. They have even reused a fairing once this year during the company's Starlink launch in November.[Read: SpaceX Successful Falcon 9 Starlink Launch]
Rocket fairing falls from space & is caught by Ms Tree boat pic.twitter.com/nJv0Ry1iKk— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2019
This proves their fairing recovery system with ships has potential to actually work. It might just need a few little tweaks.