SpaceX catches a falling piece of rocket with a giant net
SpaceX is on a mission to recover and reuse as much of its launch systems as possible, and its remarkable rocket landings continue to demonstrate this vision in spectacular ways. A perhaps less sophisticated part of this strategy involves catching pieces of rocket as they plummet back toward Earth, something the company managed to pull off for the first time following yesterday's landmark Falcon Heavy launch.
When SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets launch things into space, they protect these valuable payloads with a rounded nosecone. Once its shielding responsibilities are over, this nosecone splits into two and begins falling back down toward Earth.
SpaceX has a healthy interest in recovering these nosecones because they are worth around US$6 million each, CEO Elon Musk has said. This is a meaningful chunk of the total launch costs for both the Falcon 9 rocket, at $62 million, and the Falcon Heavy, at $90 million.
The company's strategy to retrieve and reuse these nosecones involves using parafoils to slow them down as they hurtle back toward the ocean, and then catching them with a huge net strung up over a boat previously called Mr Steven.
Mr Steven now goes by the name Ms Tree, and yesterday the boat pulled in its first catch. After the Falcon Heavy fired 24 satellites into orbit and two of its three cores touched down safely at Cape Canaveral, one half of the payload fairing came down to rest on the net-equipped boat, marking another significant first for SpaceX.
"Ms. Tree caught the Falcon fairing!!" exclaimed Musk on Twitter.
Source: SpaceX (Webcast)