What do Just Read the Instructions, Of Course I Still Love You, A Shortfall of Gravitas, and Mr Steven all have in common? Well, they’re all boats operated by SpaceX – and the latter will attempt a daring capture of part of a Falcon 9 rocket today at 9.17am EDT (update: this has been delayed to tomorrow at the same time).
Three of the boats mentioned are floating barges, or drone ships (one, recently announced by CEO Elon Musk, is currently under construction). They are used for landings of the first-stage boosters of SpaceX’s rockets out at sea, when they’re unable to return to land.
Mr Steven, however, is a boat of a different nature. Equipped with a giant claw and a net, it will be used to try and capture the nose cone of the rocket, known as the payload fairing. At a cost of $6 million each for the whole fairing, a tenth of the cost of the rocket, SpaceX is keen to reuse it and lower costs.
"It's like a giant catcher's mitt, in boat form," SpaceX said in a press conference after the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6.
Previously SpaceX has tried to retrieve the payload fairing from the sea on some launches. However, today tomorrow at 9.17am EST (2.17am GMT), the company will launch a Falcon 9 rocket with a new payload fairing, which will attempt to glide to the Mr Steven ship, where it will be captured by the net.
One half of the fairing (it splits in two when it opens) will glide to the boat using a guided geotagged parachute, if all goes to plan, noted Teslarati. Weighing about 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds), it’s hoped the fairing will make it through the skies and then nestle gently in the net of the ship, where it can then be taken back to shore.
Here’s how the landing might look. Animation provided by kNews Space on YouTube
It appears that only one half of the fairing can fit in the net, so we’re not quite sure what will happen to the other half. SpaceX also hasn’t yet confirmed if there will be footage of this event, although based on previous evidence you could probably expect there to be.
SpaceX has recovered a payload fairing once before, in March 2017, which performed a soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean with the help of an onboard thruster system and a parachute. However, such landings are subjected to damage by seawater, so keeping the fairing dry in a net will be a bonus.
The launch will take the Spanish Paz satellite into orbit. On this occasion, the booster of the rocket will not be recovered. But if everything goes well, Mr Steven will at least grab part of the rocket, and save SpaceX a few million in the process. You can watch a live stream of the launch (and maybe the landing attempt) here.