SpaceX just tried to catch pieces of its rocket using nets attached to boats

SpaceX continues to revolutionize space travel. Their newest innovation is a solution so simple, it seems strange nobody has thought of it before!
Falcon 9 launch trajectory
Falcon 9 transports the Dragon and satellites into orbit. Image: SpaceX via Twitter

SpaceX – a recap

SpaceX, another of Elon Musks’ companies, is making big waves. They have begun the Starlink satellite constellation, with batches of 60 satellites being launched at a time.

The ultimate plan? To create an entire constellation of Starlinks, which provides high-speed internet across the world.

There have been a few niggles, with astronomers complaining that glare from the satellites has been impairing their visibility. SpaceX is trialing a solution, by painting an anti-reflective coating on the bottom of each Starlink.

One of the 60 satellites launched this month will test out the new coating. This takes the total up to 180 Starlinks orbiting Earth.

In other news, SpaceX is a contractor for NASA. They successfully launched their Falcon rocket to transport the Dragon spacecraft into orbit on 5th December. This was destined for the International Space Station (ISS) on their 19th resupply mission.

Recycling in space

The Falcon 9 is a rocket produced by SpaceX. This is used for launching satellites and transporting the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. What makes it different is that Falcon 9 can be used multiple times.

This is the first reusable rocket that is capable of re-flight. SpaceX has the ultimate aim of facilitating life on other planets. They say that this ‘reusability is the key breakthrough needed to reduce the cost of access to space‘.

We talked recently about the environmental cost of SpaceX launches. I don’t think many of us fail to see the importance of enabling life on other planets, should the worst happen. However, creating further damage to Earth is always going to be a concern.

Space travel is not cheap, and it is not environmentally friendly. However, combining this innovation with an aspiration to make it more manageable is to be applauded.

SpaceX Starship Vehicle
View from a Starship satellite in orbit. Image: SpaceX via YouTube

Recovered parts

SpaceX doesn’t just talk the talk. They are actively trying to find ways to recover the parts of their rocket which fall away after launch.

Once a rocket falls back into the atmosphere, the fairing – the structure on the top of the rocket – typically breaks into two and falls back to land. Musk says that this is worth about $6 million, and allowing it to fall into the ocean isn’t responsible either financially or environmentally.

The solution is really simple. SpaceX fitted each half of the fairing with thrusters and a GPS along with a parachute. This means the parts can be tracked, guided, and landed in a more precise way than ever before.

SpaceX also purchased a boat equipped with a giant net, which was laid out to try and catch the falling debris including the nose cone.

So – did it work?

Not quite. The booster successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the netted boats did not manage to catch the two halves of the fairing this time.

SpaceX hasn’t consigned them to a watery grave though. They will try and retrieve them from the water to be used again. At a value of $6 million, I’d say it’s worth the effort!

I’m impressed by this ongoing commitment to innovation. Revolutionizing space travel (and global internet speed) is not an aspiration for the faint-hearted. But if anyone can do it, I believe Elon Musk can. After all, he’s one of the very few people dedicated enough, crazy enough, and wealthy enough to try!

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