Elon Musk unveils SpaceX's newest drone ship for rocket landings at sea

The drone fleet used by SpaceX to catch falling rockets now has a third autonomous ship, whimsically called "A Shortfall of Gravitas."

Founder Elon Musk unveiled the newest floating rocket landing pad on Twitter Friday (July 9) along with a dramatic video from a flying drone (opens in new tab) circling the ship. 

"Autonomous SpaceX droneship, A Shortfall of Gravitas," Musk wrote succinctly in the post (opens in new tab). The drone ship is fully automated with no tugboat required to take it out into the Atlantic Ocean nearby SpaceX's typical launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he added in another tweet (opens in new tab).

Related: The evolution of SpaceX rockets in pictures

SpaceX's newest drone ship, A Shortfall of Gravitas, is headed to Florida to catch Falcon 9 rocket boosters at sea. (Image credit: SpaceX via Elon Musk/Twitter)

The new ship will be put in place in Florida to support Atlantic launches of Falcon Heavy and the flagship rocket of SpaceX, the Falcon 9, that regularly sends Starlink broadband satellites to orbit and NASA astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, among other customer requests.

SpaceX's next expected launches are a Starlink set sometime in July from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and the CRS-23 ISS cargo mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 18, according to SpaceflightNow's worldwide launch calendar (opens in new tab).

"A Shortfall of Gravitas" (ASOG) will replace the role of the long-running "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship, which has supported Atlantic launches since 2015. This month, it was switched to the Pacific Coast in a month-long journey beginning June 10. SpaceX is ramping up launches of its Starlink satellites in California, requiring more drone ship support to catch the reusable stages of its rockets.

A closer view of the landing pad on SpaceX's A Shortfall of Gravitas drone ship. (Image credit: SpaceX via Elon Musk/Twitter)

Meanwhile, ASOG will work in the Atlantic alongside SpaceX's other droneship, "Just Read the Instructions" (JRTI), which moved to Port Canaveral from the Port of Los Angeles in 2019. It appears the droneships may work together to catch reusable side boosters from forthcoming launches, if a Twitter conversation in 2018 still holds water, so to speak. Back then, Musk said a third droneship was under construction.

Like the other two droneships, ASOG is named in honor of work from the late science fiction author Iain M. Banks. The newest ship's namesake is the fictional spaceship "Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall," while the other two ships are also named for vessels mentioned in Banks' "Culture" novels.

ASOG's arrival also comes as SpaceX is ramping up work on its Starship prototype series that is meant to test out a spaceship that could one day be used as the backbone of a Mars settlement scheme by the California company. SpaceX hopes to do an orbital test of Starship soon, and was targeting July, but it is waiting on certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in a process that typically takes months at the least. Starship launches from nearby the village of Boca Chica, Texas.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace