Payload fairing separation, when a rocket's shell-like nose cone pops free, is an event that accompanies most rocket launches these days, but we've never seen one quite like this.
A stunning new video from SpaceX captures the moment of separation from the point of view of the fairing itself, showing the two halves of a Falcon 9 rocket's fairing pull away from the booster's upper stage during a recent launch of 60 Starlink internet satellites.
In the 9-second clip, which SpaceX released on YouTube, we see the fairings separate from the Falcon 9 upper stage to reveal a towering stack of Starlink satellites. A quick glimpse of the Earth's atmosphere, backlit with ethereal blue light, can be seen just before it ends. SpaceX launched the Starlink mission June 3 from Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 payload fairings are 43 feet (13 meters) tall and just over 17 feet (5 m) wide. When assembled, they form a shell around satellite payloads to protect them during the first few minutes of a launch. The fairing halves separate about 3 minutes after liftoff. (SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which carry cargo and crew to space, aren't covered by a fairing.)
SpaceX has added steering thrusters and parachutes to some fairing halves in order to reuse the fairings on multiple flights. To catch them in the ocean, SpaceX has added giant nets to two retrieval ships, called Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief, to recover the fairings at sea.
According to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, Falcon 9 rocket fairings alone cost $6 million, so reusing them on multiple flights can help lower launch costs. The company has reflown three fairing halves to date.
The next SpaceX launch will lift off Saturday (June 13) and will carry another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. SpaceX has launched 482 Starlink satellites over eight missions as the company works to build a 12,000-satellite megaconstellation to provide high-speed internet service around the world.
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