So, we’re all pretty used to seeing SpaceX land its rocket on a drone ship (or barge). But what does the company do with the rockets after they land?
That’s seemingly been answered by Stephen Marr, a 34-year-old Domino’s pizza delivery guy from Cocoa Beach in Florida. Taking a helicopter ride with his girlfriend, he snapped an image of a new piece of technology SpaceX is rolling out to steady the rocket after it lands. It’s being dubbed the “Roomba” or “Optimus Prime”, and this is the first view we’ve got of it.
“This past Monday, Tiffany [my girlfriend] and I both had the day off, and decided to take a ride in one of those helicopters where you pay $40 each for a six-minute ride,” Marr told IFLScience.
“As we were making the approach to land, I had the drone ship on my side, and was able to get a clear photo of some new equipment on board that, as an avid SpaceX fan, I did not recognize.”
Marr and his girlfriend Tiffany. Courtesy of Stephen Marr
The machine was on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), named by Musk in honor of the works by Iain M. Banks. It was parked up at Port Canaveral in Florida at the time, with the last SpaceX launch – on March 16 – not including a landing.
Marr told IFLScience the machine did not move as he watched it, but there were lots of people working around it. Unable to identify exactly what it was, he posted his image to the fine folks at the subreddit /r/SpaceX on Monday, and users there were quick to identify what it was.
“You've posted the first clear picture of the highly anticipated, first stage securing robot called Optimus Prime,” said user old_sellsword. “They made a garage on one end of the [drone] to house it. After stages land, it'll drive underneath the booster, raise those four hydraulic arms and clamp on to the octaweb like they used to do with manual jacks.”
Here's a close-up. You can see gaps where, presumably, the legs of the first stage will go after it lands. Courtesy of Stephen Marr
There are rumors that the machine is autonomous. This means, essentially, the rocket will launch, land, and get secured all by itself pretty much. Who needs pesky humans?
SpaceX’s next launch, on Wednesday, March 29, is planned to land on OCISLY, using one of the rockets they've landed before for the first time. So, there’s every reason to think we’ll be seeing the giant robot Roomba in action. It's never been used before, with Ricky Lim, senior director of launch operations for SpaceX, telling Florida Today "it's new".
“It turns out I got the first shot of this new hardware that had been rumored, but never seen,” said Marr. “It's pretty neat.”
The machine is expected to steady the first stage of the rocket after it lands. SpaceX