SpaceX has come a long way since it began nearly 20 years ago.
From the beginning, the company planned to reduce the cost of spaceflight by creating a launch vehicle whose parts could be reused, including the rocket’s first stage, the spacecraft, and the fairing that sits on top of the rocket and holds the payload.
After several years of hard work, engineers at the California-based company have almost fully perfected the landing procedure for the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has also gone on several missions.
Falcon 9 fairing recovery
Although SpaceX is trying to talk less about the fairing, the company just announced that the last flight of the Starlink satellite, which launched May 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, was the first time a half fairing had been flown as part of a fifth mission. The component’s first flight into space took place in 2019. The other half of the rocket’s fairing, meanwhile, made its third flight. SpaceX added that Wednesday’s flight was also the 40th repeat flight of the Falcon 9 fairing halves since November 2019.
Considering the Falcon 9 fairing costs about $6 million, it’s easy to see why SpaceX is eager to reuse it.
In previous Falcon 9 launches, both halves of the rocket fairing have fallen into the sea, and after a while the crew on the boat had to pull them out of the water. But impact and salt water can damage components, so SpaceX designed a craft with a giant net to catch the fairing halves.
Although a GPS-equipped guided parafoil (similar to a parachute) helps bring the fairing up to the ship, landing it directly on the net is still a challenge. After several failed attempts, SpaceX managed to catch half of the fairing for the first time in June 2019. About 12 months later, it managed to catch both halves for the first time on two different ships. You can watch both catches in the video below.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 21, 2020
Since then, the company has refined the procedure to make it more reliable and finally put an end to fishing expeditions.
SpaceX has also been successful with its next-generation Starship rocket: it recently made its first safe landing after a test flight at high altitude.