SpaceX is coming in for a landing. The company’s Just Read the Instructions droneship has been spotted out at sea, getting ready to catch another rocket as it falls from the sky in the minutes after successfully launching a series of satellites into orbit.
The impressive aerial shot, captured by Instagram user “tonycac,” shows the ship as it makes its way out into position. The ship looks tiny out in the vast sea, but looks can be deceiving: these ships are adept at catching rockets, having successfully landed 19 rockets since first starting in 2016. CEO Elon Musk explained in 2014, prior to the first ship’s completion, that it’s designed from the ground up for catching rockets: “It’s huge, huge-ish, it’s about 300 feet long by 170 feet wide…that looks very tiny from space, and the leg span of the rocket is 60 feet, and this is going to be positioning itself out in the ocean with engines that will try to keep it in a particular position –- but it’s tricky, you’ve got to deal with these big rollers and GPS errors.”
SpaceX has two drone ships in operation. While the one pictured above serves the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Of Course I Still Love You serves the other side of the country at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The two are named after the sentient ships in 1988 sci-fi novel The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, one of the many sci-fi references Musk peppers throughout his work.
Just Read the Instructions will assist in a mission scheduled for Wednesday at 1:31 p.m. Eastern time. It will see 64 small satellites, weighing around 4,000 kg total, sent up as part of Spaceflight Industries’ SSO-A mission with contributions from 34 groups in 17 countries. The “Block 5” Falcon 9 set to launch will be undertaking its third mission, a major milestone in SpaceX’s mission to recuperate the $62 million costs associated with rocket construction.
SpaceX is planning a successor to the Falcon 9 dubbed Starship. This vessel, scheduled to perform hop tests next year, will take everything the company has learned about reusability and apply it to a Mars mission, enabling astronauts to refuel and return to earth after visiting the red planet.
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