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Watch SpaceX boat catch falling payload fairing in giant net (video)

SpaceX just plucked another payload fairing out of the sky, and you can see video of the dramatic cosmic catch.

The net-equipped SpaceX boat GO Ms. Tree snagged half of a falling payload fairing Tuesday (Aug. 18), shortly after a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket launched 58 Starlink internet satellites and three Earth-observation spacecraft into orbit. 

Payload fairings are the shrouds that protect satellites during launch. SpaceX fairings come in two pieces, both of which come back to Earth under parachutes in a guided fashion, thanks to small thrusters. Such tech aids recovery and reuse of the fairings, which cost about $6 million each, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.

Related: SpaceX's Starlink satellite megaconstellation launches in photos 

GO Ms. Tree and its sister ship, GO Ms. Chief, are part of this picture as well. Seawater is extremely corrosive, so snatching fairing halves out of the sky makes refurbishment easier, Musk has said. The ships have snagged a handful of fairings to date, including a double catch during the launch of a South Korean military satellite last month. (Ocean splashdowns don't preclude reuse, however; SpaceX has reflown fairings that it fished out of the water.)

GO Ms. Chief pulled one fairing half out of the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday. But GO Ms. Tree caught the other one, a success captured by a camera-equipped drone. Musk posted that footage on Twitter Tuesday, scoring the 43-second video with some playfully incongruous lounge music.

This week's launch featured reusability action on multiple fronts. It was the sixth launch for this particular Falcon 9 first stage, for example, a milestone that SpaceX had never before achieved. And more liftoffs are likely coming for the booster, which aced its landing on a ship at sea Tuesday.

The net-equipped SpaceX boat GO Ms. Tree catches a Falcon 9 payload fairing half on Aug. 18, 2020. (Image credit: Elon Musk via Twitter)

Starlink is SpaceX's burgeoning constellation of internet satellites. The company has launched nearly 600 Starlink craft to date, and many more will go up in the near future: SpaceX has permission to launch 12,000 such satellites and has applied for approval to loft up to 30,000 on top of that.

The three other satellites that went up Tuesday are SkySats. They belong to San Francisco-based company Planet, which operates the world's largest constellation of Earth-observing spacecraft. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

  • JDnHuntsvileAL
    "...the fairings, which cost about $6 million each ..."

    That's a ridiculous amount for something whose only function is to divert the air a bit. They could make them a LOT, LOT cheaper and let them just burn up on reentry.
    Reply
  • Vikk
    It looks like an animation.
    Reply
  • JDnHuntsvileAL
    Not sure if you're saying you believe it is an animation or that the quality of it is as good as an animation, but the article states: "...a success captured by a camera-equipped drone. "
    Reply
  • DocM
    JDnHuntsvileAL said:
    "...the fairings, which cost about $6 million each ..."

    That's a ridiculous amount for something whose only function is to divert the air a bit. They could make them a LOT, LOT cheaper and let them just burn up on reentry.

    It's math.

    SpaceX launches 20-25 commercial & govt. satellites a year, plus they're launching their own Starlink worldwide data constellation; 12,000 satellites at 60 satellites/launch just for Phase 1. Phase 2 would add another 30,000 satellites.

    Launching Starlink Phase 1 using disposable Falcon 9 fairings would increase its deployment cost by $1.2 billion.

    Starlink Phase 2 will launch using their in development, massive, and fully reusable Starship multi-purpose vehicle - 400 satellites at a time.

    Starship is 9 meters wide and 50 meters long, with 6 massive Raptor engines for propulsion and 1,000 cubic meters of payload bay.
    Reply
  • JDnHuntsvileAL
    What math? You don't show anything which disputes my comment. The fact that they are going to be deploying lots of stuff doesn't negate what I said. Remember, a lot of that $6 million for the reusable fairings is the cost to clean them up and get them ready FOR reuse. I'd be willing to bet THAT cost is more than just using new, cheap, disposable ones.
    Reply