SpaceX installs much larger arms for net on ship for fairing recapture


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Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed the installation of much larger arms for the net that will be used to try catching rocket fairings.

While it’s difficult to estimate from photos alone, it appears that Mr Steven’s new arms are minimum of roughly 65 meters squared, assuming a square aspect ratio. In other words, the vessel’s next and newest net could have an area as large as 3600 square meters (~40,000 square feet, ~0.85 acres), easily more than quadruple the size of Mr Steven’s previous net. For comparison, the massive autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) SpaceX often recovers its Falcon 9 and Heavy boosters aboard have a usable landing area of roughly 45,000 square feet, a little more than 10% larger than Mr Steven’s new net.

With these vast new arms, struts, and (soon enough) net, SpaceX is likely as close as they have ever been to successfully catching a Falcon 9 fairing, an achievement that would likely allow the company to begin reusing the large carbon fiber-composite shrouds almost immediately. Critically, although SpaceX appears to have begun attaching recovery hardware to both fairing halves in recent West Coast attempts, it remains to be seen whether Mr Steven’s new claw apparatus will be able to catch both halves, thus closing the gap on fairing recovery without necessitating the leasing and modification of perhaps three additional copies of the vessel.

This new net setup is big. We shall see if it works during an Iridium launch later this month.

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11 comments

  • Localfluff

    I wish that the Swedish soccer team could’ve installed much larger arms on their goalie. That’s why I prefer ice hockey. (However do they get the puck inside of a cage smaller than its keeper? Is it maybe quantum mechanics?)

  • Andi

    Quantum tunneling. The puck goes from a high energy state, tunnels through the space around the goalie, which would normally require a great deal of energy to go over, into a lower-energy state in the net.

  • wodun

    Bigger but they also look a lot more robust than the old ones.

  • Peter Francis

    Is capturing and recycling the fairings THAT big a deal? How will their recycling contribute to lowering launch costs (and pricing)? 10, 20, 50% of the equivalent savings of reusable first stages? To me a fairing is a protective cover that doesn’t seem to be a substantial portion of the total cost (of a Falcon 9).

    I would appeciate an explanation that opens my eyes.

  • Peter Francis: As quoted here:

    To reduce the cost of launch, SpaceX hopes to recover and reuse the fairing which represents an estimated $6 million – about 10% of the Falcon 9’s launch cost. Since the five meter diameter fairing splits into two halves when jettisoned, two recoveries are required per launch – with each saving about $3 million worth of hardware.

    See also this comment at Behind the Black, in connection with the article above.

    The bottom line is that SpaceX thinks it can save money by recovering the fairing. This is their business decision, and they certainly have more detailed cost information that we have.

  • Chris

    I though that Feynman said the puck went off to another universe and an identical puck replaced it on the other side of the goalie …. maybe that was Zener

  • I am so waiting for the Elon Musk biopic:

    “We’re gonna need a bigger net.”

  • Chris

    I thought Feynman said the puck goes off to another universe and an identical puck appears from a another universe on the other side of the goal – or maybe it was Zener.

  • Localfluff

    @Peter Francis
    My very speculative take on faring reusability is that it would allow for much more expensive and advanced fairings. The fairing is the womb of a launcher that protects its payload. Maybe the payload could be somehow suspended to lower the vibrations, so that washers don’t fall off $9 billion telescopes, for example. There’s much more money to be saved on the payload’s design and testing, than on the fairing itself.

    The upper stage is much more difficult to reuse than the first stage. The upper stage goes where the satellite goes. The upper stages of the Voyagers are also leaving the Solar system. It would have to be deorbited and enter the atmosphere with a heat shield. I’m surprised SpaceX even had the ambition, initially, to try to reuse it! The Shuttle and Buran and X-37 have heavy wings to make it possible for them to come down from orbit. And the heat shielding tiles was a big problem for the Shuttle.

  • Col Beausabre

    Who’s Mr Stevens?

  • pzatchok

    Mr. Stevens is the name of the boat.

    Why they named it that I don’t know.

    Maybe after Samanthas husband.

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