Mr. Steven is a retrofitted cargo ship that’s meant to catch rocket fairings that plummet to earth in the wake of SpaceX rocket launches using a giant net. On Monday, it came achingly close to realizing its goal but sadly fell short once again.
An hour after Falcon 9 launched 64 satellites into orbit and landed on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to announce Mr. Steven had failed to catch the rocket’s fairings.
“Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water,” he tweeted. “Mr Steven is picking them up. Plan is to dry them out & launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim.”
This failed attempt comes months after Mr. Stevens had received major upgrades to the size of its net. In June, Musk revealed that SpaceX would make the recovery vessel’s net four times larger than its original design. Unfortunately, simply increasing its size didn’t seem to do the trick but this doesn’t mean the fairings were completely destroyed.
Musk assured his followers that even though they made a splash the components are still reusable. The Falcon 9’s modified fairings use parachutes to slow their descent and thrusters to guide themselves towards Mr. Steven. This system proved to make them salvageable even if they missed the bullseye.
While this Falcon 9 recovery worked out in SpaceX’s favor, perfecting Mr. Steven’s catching capability is crucial to ensuring fairings don’t sustain damage to enable fully reusable rockets. Musk once told his employees in 2017 that catching these fairings can save SpaceX $6 million per launch.
“Imagine we have a pallet of cash worth $6 million dollars falling through the sky,” he told his staff. “Would we try to catch it? I say we do.”
While Mr. Steven missed the mark this time, SpaceX will continue working to improve the recoverability of its signature rocket.