SpaceX’s rockets tend to get all the attention, especially after last week’s history-making Falcon Heavy launch. But those aren’t the most distinctive — and definitely not the nerdiest — parts of Elon Musk’s space fleet. That honor goes to the two oceangoing drone ships on which spent rockets come in to land, and Musk revealed Monday that a third is on the way.
According to the SpaceX founder, the new ship will join its sibling Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean. This will make it possible for both of the side boosters on Falcon Heavy to land safely at sea. The ship will be called A Shortfall Of Gravitas, which like Of Course I Still Love You and the Pacific-based Just Read The Instructions gets its name from the sentient starships in Iain Banks’s Culture novels.
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Last week’s Falcon Heavy launch saw the two side boosters come down side by side at Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral, while the middle booster attempted an ultimately unsuccessful landing on Of Course I Still Love You. The presence of a second drone ship will give SpaceX much more flexibility in plotting out future Falcon Heavy launches and recoveries, with it then possible to have the side boosters land at sea simultaneously.
It’s not just Falcon Heavy that benefits, according to Musk. He tweeted that the addition of A Shortfall Of Gravitas would also support busier flight schedules for Falcon 9.
After all, SpaceX may have made landing a rocket on an oceangoing, remote-controlled ships seem routine — the failed attempt to land Falcon Heavy’s main booster was the first unsuccessful landing in about 19 months — but it’s still a big, fiery rocket landing on a floating platform. The drone ships take plenty of punishment, and a second ship in the Atlantic would give SpaceX much-needed insurance in case of damage or repairs as Falcon 9’s launch schedule grows ever more hectic.
No word on whether a fourth drone ship could eventually be in the works, perhaps to support Just Read The Instructions in the Pacific. While the Falcon 9 traffic is busier coming from Florida’s Cape Canaveral than California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, Falcon Heavy could potentially launch from either location, as the base’s Space Launch Complex 4 has also been redesigned to handle the bigger rocket’s launches.
For the time being, however, Falcon Heavy is only scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral, with the next launch likely slated for June. Perhaps by then A Shortfall Of Gravitas will be ready to meet it — well, one of its side boosters, at any rate.
Things haven’t always gone to plan, as this blooper reel shows: