SpaceX’s ship is on the move. Mr. Steven, a vessel designed by the company to catch the fairing of a rocket as it falls back to Earth, was spotted Tuesday leaving the Port of Los Angeles. The ship is expected to make its way over to Florida, where the company conducts the majority of its launches.
It’s a big step for the ship, designed to catch the $6 million protective shield after a rocket launch and save more of the $62 million costs associated with rocket launches, enabling more ambitious launches like a mission to Mars. Mr. Steven has failed to catch a single fairing in all five of its attempts in the Pacific Ocean, the first of which took place in February 2018. The move, spotted by Teslarati, comes after the ship completed another controlled test involving a helicopter dropping a fairing from around 10,000 feet high. The ship has started its journey to Manzanillo, where it’s expected to continue on to Florida. SpaceX did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment, and the company has yet to make any statement about the move.
Mr. Steven has undergone an intense upgrade process to resolve its catching issues. In July SpaceX announced it had fitted the rear with a net four times larger than its predecessor, using a series of new arms installed over a 48-hour time period. The resultant net measures around 0.85 acres in size. The company also spent the month testing the vessel at high speeds. It’s officially ranked to move 400 metric tons of cargo at regular speeds of 23 knots, or 27 mph, with the ship itself measuring almost 200,000 pounds and around 200 feet long.
SpaceX has also made changes on the rocket side to help catch the fairing, which Musk has described as “a pallet of cash worth $6 million dollars falling through the sky” at eight times the speed of sound. It’s fitted onboard thrusters and a guidance system, to help position the fairing before a parafoil deployment slows the speed down.
It’s unclear when the ship may see action again, but one possibility is the Nusantaru Satu launch scheduled for mid-February from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket will send up a 10-pound satellite, a series of smaller satellites and a moon lander.
While Mr. Steven’s main focus is saving components of the Falcon 9, something bigger is afoot. New images suggest the world’s most powerful rocket in operation, the Falcon Heavy, is due for another launch.