SpaceX Retrieves Falcon Heavy Fairings Offshore for Reuse at Next Launch – Spaceflight Now

One half of the Falcon Heavy's payload fairing after it pulled out of the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday night. Credit: Elon Musk / SpaceX

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said on Thursday that the company's salvage fleet in the Atlantic Ocean had recovered the two halves of the Falcon Heavy's payload veil after the second launch of the lifter from the Kennedy Space Center. Musk said the company plans to reuse the fairing for the first time later this year.

In a series of tweets on Thursday night, Musk wrote that SpaceX was recovering the two halves of the Falcon Heavy's payload veil in the sea, and that the material appears intact after rolling to the edge of the space.

Musk said the half-fairings would be launched again later this year as part of a mission carrying a group of satellites in orbit for SpaceX's Starlink global broadband network. Two Starlink test satellites were launched last year and the launch of the next broadband satellite group using the Falcon 9 rocket coming from Florida in the coming months, according to SpaceX, is expected in the coming months .

In several missions since the beginning of 2018, SpaceX attempted to capture the payload fairings using a giant net on a ship named Mr. Steven, who attempted to maneuver under the fairing while he was descending under a adjustable parachute. After several near misses, SpaceX has installed a larger net on the ship, but the company has not yet seized a fairing with the help of the ship.

SpaceX has recovered many fairings from the ocean. The concept of catching the fairing with Mr. Steven was to prevent the material from being damaged by salt water. SpaceX's experience in refurbishing Dragon cargo capsules that have plunged into the sea has shown that the effort takes a lot of time.

In recent months, Musk said cleaning the fairings recovered in the ocean may not be an obstacle to re-using the shroud.

Mr. Steven, SpaceX's refit recovery craft. Credit: SpaceX

After Mr. Steven narrowly missed a fairing after a Falcon 9 launch in California in December, Musk tweeted, "The Falcon fairings were missing the net, but were landing softly in the water. . Mr. Steven picks them up. The plan is to dry them and restart them. Nothing wrong with swimming a bit. "

Steven left California via the Panama Canal for Florida earlier this year, but was not deployed to catch the headdress on Thursday.

Musk said Thursday night that the half-fairing for the Falcon Heavy launch Thursday would be the first to be modified.

The payload fairing generally moves away from the rocket three or four minutes after take-off, once the launcher is mounted in space. The aerodynamic fairing, or forward cone, protects the payloads of satellites from the airflow as the rocket rises through the dense lower layers of the atmosphere.

Once in the void of space, the fairing is no longer needed. It splits into two pieces, like a shell, and falls back to Earth.

The fairing used for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches is approximately 13 meters long and 5.2 meters in diameter.

Part of a Falcon 9 payload fairing from an April 2018 launch of Cape Canaveral descends under a parafoil over the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has equipped its fairings with avionics, thrusters and steerable parachutes for easy recovery. The company wants to reuse the fairing and plans to reduce launch costs after proving the landing and reuse of Falcon booster stages.

Musk told reporters last year that the fairing cost about $ 6 million.

He added that the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket accounted for about 60% of the cost of a launch, the upper tier being responsible for 20% and the cap for 10%. The remaining 10 percent of the cost of a Falcon 9 mission comes from launch, propulsion and other processing costs, Musk said last year.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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