SpaceX’s quest to reuse rockets took another step forward Tuesday. In a Twitter response to a fan question, CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company is likely to be able to re-use the fairing protective shield after it’s landed in the ocean. The prospect is a big step forward for the company’s recovery technology, paving the way for future missions to Mars and beyond.
While SpaceX has almost perfected the art of recovering the rocket booster, costing around $46.5 million of the $62 million total construction costs for a Falcon 9, the $6 million fairing remains elusive. The company’s previous plan was to use a giant net on the back of an ocean ship, with Mr. Steven moving into position after launch. However, its attempt to catch the fairing failed earlier this month when it narrowly missed the net. Musk reassured his Twitter fans at the time that there’s “nothing wrong with a little swim” and they could fly again, but Musk has now gone further to suggest the net may not be necessary at all.
Ditching the net would avoid one of SpaceX’s trickiest challenges. Mr. Steven was first deployed in February 2018, accompanies by a modified fairing designed to make it easier for the shield to glide to the mitt. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way, missing its target by “a few hundred meters” off the coast of Southern California. In June, Musk announced plans to upgrade the net to a size four times larger, totaling 0.9 acres.
The ship came very close earlier this month, but the larger net was not quite enough. Fortunately, the upgrades to the fairing enabled a softer landing with parachutes slowing down the speed and thrusters guiding the fairing to a more suitable spot. It’s not quite the result the company was after, but Tuesday’s comments suggest its new approach may make the catcher’s mitt less necessary than before.
SpaceX plans to use rocket reusability technology to send a manned mission to Mars as soon as 2024, using liquid methane rocket propellant to refuel by harvesting resources from the Martian atmosphere.
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