SpaceX has Given up Trying to Catch Rocket Fairings. Fishing Them out of the Ocean is Fine

SpaceX has Given up Trying to Catch Rocket Fairings. Fishing Them out of the Ocean is Fine

If there is one driving force in the commercial space industry, it is economics. The whole concept of the reusable booster missile underscores the importance of reducing launch costs. SpaceX, the company leading the way in trying to cut launch costs, isn’t just bringing back booster missiles, however. The missile fairings that hold the payload during launch will also be restored. SpaceX’s original plan was to capture the fairings as they fell back to Earth using specially equipped ships with nets to catch them before they landed in the ocean. Now, however, the company has moved on to simply fishing disguises out of the ocean after they’re hosed down, and that seems to be working well.

The economic motivation for attempting a disguise capture is simple. Salt water is corrosive. If a cladding ends up in the sea, it has to be refurbished for a fee. Catching it before it hits the water eliminates the need for renovation, reducing the cost of reusing the siding.

The two cladding vessels, Mrs. Tree and Mrs. Chief, side by side with nets in place.
Image Credit: SpaceX

To attempt this capture, SpaceX commissioned two ships that had their usual quirky style: Mrs. Tree and Mrs. Chief. The two ships were fitted with custom netting and advanced computerized systems and sent out into the ocean to try to catch the fairings from SpaceX launches as they fell back to Earth.

The problem is, they were only successful less than 20% of the time. SpaceX attempted 50 disguise catches and was only successful in 9 of them. In some cases, the ships did indeed catch the fairing, but then the net was torn or the fairing was blown out of the net by the parasols to which it was still attached. In addition, the ships themselves were repeatedly damaged, with one losing some of its attached arms in a storm.

Image of Ms. Tree’s failed catch with the panel breaking through the net.
Image Credit: SpaceX

So the company started doing the next best thing – fishing the fairing straight out of the water. Elon Musk himself recently confirmed this on Twitter. Economically, it must make more sense to simply renovate the fixtures than keep trying to catch them.

They are extracted from the water and reused

– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 7, 2021

SpaceX has now sold Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief and bought a much larger disguise ship called Shelia Bodelon, which has not yet been christened with a quirky name. This could be because the arrangement is temporary, as the Shelia Bordelon was originally designed for underwater exploration and much of the ship’s space is occupied by an autonomous underwater vehicle.

Meanwhile in Port Canaveral. Ms. Tree practiced scooping disguise out of the water (over the dock) before being photobomed by USNS Newport.

Just your average Thursday.

Edited clips (rewind for the entire show below).

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– Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) February 11, 2021

The pink and blue ship joins a fleet of two other vehicles used to restore the kite pod – GO Searcher and GO Navigator. These ships have also spent some time fishing disguises out of the sea, with 16 restores between them. They installed special nets that enable what SpaceX calls “wet recovery,” which allows them to scoop fairings out of the ocean rather than crane them out.

The Shelia Bordelon is now used to recover disguises.
Photo credit: Bordelon Marine

With the final push for Starlink, there will soon be a lot more disguises to recover, no matter how it’s done. SpaceX observers can rest assured that the company will choose the more economically profitable process.

Learn more:
BGR – Elon Musk confirms that SpaceX is done capturing its missile components
SpaceX Fleet – The state of the art of restoring the SpaceX fairing in 2021
UT – SpaceX finally catches both halves of a Falcon 9 fairing

Mission statement:
SpaceX successfully retrieves a fairing from the air.
Photo credit: Elon Musk / Twitter

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