A detailed look at SpaceX’s attempt to recovery its rocket fairings

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Link here. The article contains lots of good information and background, including some cost figures that suggest this recovery scheme will only work if they can recovery a lot of fairings while doing a lot of launches. Since SpaceX’s goal is to do a lot of launches, the numbers seem reasonable.



  • Kirk

    “… cost figures that suggest this recovery scheme will only work if they can recovery a lot of fairings …”

    The article concludes that “the economics for fairing recovery seem to make sense, especially since SpaceX launches multiple times a month.” At $6m per fairing and thus > $3m for the active half vs. leasing the ship for significantly less than the $2.7m/year calculated from the $7,500 daily rate, the ship itself would be more than paid for with a single annual recovery. The article goes on to mention additional fees but their “especially since” conclusion is quite different than an “only if” one.

    If all depends, of course, on achieving successful recoveries, and on the suitability for reflight of recovered fairings. As with booster recovery, relieving production pressures and thus allowing a greater flight rate is a more immediate benefit of reuse than the simple cost savings.

    It will be interesting to see if, once they get fairing recovery working, they will need two ships on each coast to recover both fairing halves. My bet is that by staggering parachute deployment they will be able to recover the two halves a couple of minutes apart, giving them time to lower the first fairing sufficiently and deploy a second net. Still, those fairings a pretty big, as emphasized in this beam on photo of Mr. Steven’s return, and the consensus on forums seems to be that a second ship will be needed to catch the second fairing half.

  • Localfluff

    I wonder if reusability might allow for much more advanced fairings in the future, somehow providing a better environment (such as dampening vibrations) for the payload during launch. If so, maybe that could save customers alot of monies when designing billion dollar satellites. Maybe that is the rationale in the long term, rather than saving a single million here and there of today’s fairings.

  • Dick Eagleson

    A pair of ASDS’s with a third a-building and, no doubt, still more to come, plus tugs, service and support vessels and now these new Fast Fairing Catchers (Mr. Steven-class FFC’s). Someone with SpaceX needs to design uniforms for the SpaceX Reusability Navy. Elon needs to make a little time to see his tailor and get fitted for an SRN uniform with Commodore’s or Admiral’s rank insignia.

    There are probably already people on the SpaceX payroll performing the jobs of – to borrow USN terminology – COMNAVSURFLANT and COMNAVSURFPAC (Commander Naval Surface Forces Atlantic and Pacific, respectively). Soon, there will be a need for a COMNAVSURFGULF too.

    SpaceX has already used references to well-known sci-fi works in naming its ASDS’s. To continue SpaceX’s tradition of mixing sci-fi with fun in its naming conventions, perhaps the SRN rank equivalent to Chief Petty Officer could be designated Petty Chief Officer ala Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison.

  • Edward

    From the article: “After entry into Earth’s atmosphere, a parafoil is deployed. The fairing halves are then able to steer themselves towards a general location in the ocean.

    I am wondering whether SpaceX has another idea in mind with this steerable parafoil system. SpaceX had intended to avoid water landings with their manned Dragon by having powered landings. They abandoned that idea when NASA balked at the innovation.

    One reason for a powered landing was fine control to the landing site. A parachute drifts too much for to land on a specific landing pad, but maybe SpaceX is thinking of developing better control, when landing Dragon-sized vehicles (rocket stages are too heavy for parachute landings to be practical), with parafoils. A dry landing could save quite a bit of money, since recovery ships would not be needed and there would be less chance of corrosion or other effects.

    This would not be the first time this idea was tried. Project Gemini experimented with landing on solid ground using a paraglider. The idea did not pan out for NASA, but a few years later people were hang gliding with similar looking wings.

    Back in the 1960s, NASA was willing to be innovative, but they have changed since then. Now it is the current upstart startup companies that seem willing to innovate.

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