Photos of the ship, Mr. Steven, that SpaceX wants to use to recover its rocket fairings show that the company has installed a new net for catching those fairings.
The article theorizes that this heftier net has actually been installed for eventually catching the Falcon 9’s upper stage.
[T]he newly-installed net is by all appearances magnitudes larger, heavier, and stronger than the minimal mesh specimen it is clearly replacing. Given the fact that SpaceX thus far has self-admittedly failed to catch a gliding fairing half in the net, it seems unlikely that such a drastic upgrade would be necessitated by any field-testing that occurred since Mr. Steven’s debut late last year. Rather, a significantly more capable net seems to more readily fit alongside CEO Elon Musk’s tweet reveal three weeks prior that SpaceX would attempt to close the final major loop of Falcon reusability by recovering the orbital upper stage (S2). Estimated to weigh approximately 4000 kilograms empty, the upper stage is a minimum of four times heavier than Falcon 9’s payload fairing halves, Mr Steven’s current meal of choice.
Judging from the new net’s beefy rigging, broader bars, and general appearance, one could safely argue that it looks at least several times stronger than the mesh net before it. One could also argue that the absolutely massive metal arms installed on Mr. Steven are far larger than what might be required to catch the extremely low mass-to-area ratio payload fairings, with structural heft and bulky netting more reminiscent of safety nets present on naval vessels that are designed to catch aircraft and helicopters weighing five metric tons or more.
This is an interesting theory, but I have my doubts. At the same time, I would not dismiss Musk’s willingness to try daring engineering approaches.
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