GO Ms. Tree now has two epic catches on her resume.
The speedy, net-equipped SpaceX boat plucked a payload fairing out of the sky for the second time ever on Tuesday evening (Aug. 6), during the launch of the Amos-17 communications satellite atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket.
"Rocket fairing falls from space & is caught by Ms Tree boat," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said about 75 minutes after liftoff via Twitter, where he posted a 28-second-long video of the fairing half settling into GO Ms. Tree's net in the Atlantic Ocean, far off the Florida coast.
Rocket fairing falls from space & is caught by Ms Tree boat pic.twitter.com/nJv0Ry1iKkAugust 7, 2019
Payload fairings are the protective nose cones that surround satellites during launch. SpaceX fairings are composed of two halves, each of which is equipped with small, steering thrusters and parafoils to aid in recovery efforts.
There's a significant financial incentive to recover and reuse payload fairings; each one costs about $6 million, Musk has said. (SpaceX uses identical fairings for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.)
And that's where GO Ms. Tree — formerly known as Mr. Steven — comes in. Saltwater is extremely corrosive, so keeping fairing halves dry makes reuse more feasible, Musk has said.
GO Ms. Tree's first successful catch occurred on June 25, during the third-ever Falcon Heavy launch. That breakthrough didn't come out of the blue; the boat had come close to snagging a fairing several times over the preceding months.
SpaceX also reuses its rockets, of course. The company has successfully landed Falcon 9 first stages 44 times to date, and more than 20 boosters have taken to the skies multiple times. Such activities are part of the company's vision to slash the cost of spaceflight, thereby enabling ambitious exploration feats such as the colonization of Mars.
The Falcon 9 that launched yesterday had a used first stage; the booster had two previous liftoffs under its belt, in fact. But there was no third landing for this rocket; Amos-17 is a very heavy satellite bound for a relatively distant orbit, so the booster didn't have enough fuel left over to get itself back home safely.
- The Evolution of SpaceX's Rockets in Pictures
- Reusable Rocket Launch Systems: How They Work (Infographic)
- SpaceX's Falcon 9: Rocket for the Dragon
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.