There’s a weird pleasure in watching someone or something get close — achingly close! — to hitting a target which it then narrowly misses at the last second. Call it schadenfreude, call it catharsis; but few topics have delivered so consistently on the sensation as Mr. Steven, SpaceX’s fairing recovery vessel, whose testing is like watching a football pass centimeters on the wrong side of the goal post. Except with rockets.
Rocket, or “payload” fairings are basically high tech rocket helmets, a protective layer that’s supposed to prevent a rocket’s payload from burning up as it passes through the atmosphere. Typically they’ve been a “one-and-done” piece of hardware, though CEO Elon Musk has made a point of emphasizing how much money could be saved if someone could figure out a way to re-use them. Fairing recoveries, then, are a key part of the mission to make space travel some day feasible for non-billionaires.
Catching rocket fairings as they fall to earth, though, has proved something of a challenge. Last year, Mr. Steven underwent some refurbishing to try and bring it up to the task, an effort that included installing a new net that was four times the original net’s size. This improvement seems to be what’s made brought the extent of Mr. Steven’s near-misses to excruciating levels.
As you can see in the above video, it’s looking like SpaceX is getting pretty close to perfecting this formula, with the fairing hitting the ocean at what appears to be within a few feet of Mr. Steven’s stern. SpaceX also said the footage was of “one of Mr. Steven’s final West Coast fairing recovery tests” before it is shipped out to the East Coast.
Once the final few tests are completed, Mr. Steven will begin making its way to Florida to be closer to Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX conducts most of its launches. Its next mission could be as soon as mid-February, when SpaceX’s Nusantaru Satu launch is scheduled.