SpaceX drone ship moves to California for West Coast rocket landings

SpaceX's drone ship Of Course I Still Love You is seen in Port Canaveral, Florida in 2015 as it entered service as an East Coast rocket landing pad for Falcon 9 launches.
SpaceX's drone ship Of Course I Still Love You is seen in Port Canaveral, Florida in 2015 as it entered service as an East Coast rocket landing pad for Falcon 9 launches. (Image credit: SpaceX)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The most prolific SpaceX drone ship has arrived on the West Coast. 

The floating Falcon 9 rocket landing pad "Of Course I Still Love You" (or OCISLY for short) departed Port Canaveral on June 10, to change coasts in support of SpaceX's increasing launch operations. Currently, there are minimal flights blasting off from the company's California-based launch facilities, but that is all about to change. 

OCISLY and its tug Mr. Jonah bid Florida farewell and sailed out of the Port on a multi-week journey to the other side of the country. It was smooth sailing throughout the trip, with the only dicey parts being actually crossing the Panama Canal. The drone ship is so massive that according to canal officials, a semi-submersible transport vessel had to help it through the canal.  

 Some OCISLY fans along the way cheered and snapped photos of the journey. 

Excited onlookers (as well as officials working at the Panama Canal) took to Twitter to share the ship's journey, spotting it pass through the canal on June 25.

After a 26-day journey, the massive drone ship arrived at its ultimate destination: the Port of Long Beach. OCISLY sailed into port on the deck of an even larger ship, called Mighty Servant 1, just in time for SpaceX's first polar Starlink internet satellite mission, estimated for sometime in July. 

Dueling drone ships 

In 2020, SpaceX had a banner year as the company launched a record 26 rockets — all but one launched from Florida. In the coming years, SpaceX has plans to ramp up its West Coast launch operations as the company works to fill out its Starlink satellite megaconstellation. 

The broadband satellites are part of the company's effort to blanket the globe with internet coverage. To that end, SpaceX announced it would be launching a few flights from Vandenberg Space Force Base on a polar trajectory to provide service to those customers in high-latitude locations. 

Here's where OCISLY comes in. Currently, the only means of booster recovery at Vandenberg is to land the first stage back on land, but that requires the Falcon 9 to have plenty of fuel reserves. To facilitate catches and reuse, SpaceX needed a drone ship back on the West Coast.

SpaceX's other drone ship, "Just Read the Instructions," used to reside in the Port of Los Angeles and was responsible for all West Coast catches, that is until the company's launch cadence ramped up so much that Florida needed to have two of the massive ships on hand. 

These two ships have been responsible for a total of 69 booster recoveries to date. (An additional 20 landings have occurred on land.) OCISLY was the first to make a successful catch in May 2016 — less than a year after SpaceX's first touchdown at Landing Zone 1

There have been a few misses in the subsequent years as SpaceX worked to perfect its recovery methods. 

A third ship, which Elon has been promising for years, is nearly complete and will be following in OCISLY's footsteps in Florida. Named "A Shortfall of Gravitas," the massive ship is currently under construction in Louisana and is expected to enter service very soon. 

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Amy Thompson
Contributing Writer

Amy Thompson is a Florida-based space and science journalist, who joined as a contributing writer in 2015. She's passionate about all things space and is a huge science and science-fiction geek. Star Wars is her favorite fandom, with that sassy little droid, R2D2 being her favorite. She studied science at the University of Florida, earning a degree in microbiology. Her work has also been published in Newsweek, VICE, Smithsonian, and many more. Now she chases rockets, writing about launches, commercial space, space station science, and everything in between.