SpaceX’s specialized boat aimed at catching falling rocket parts just got a sizable upgrade. The vessel, called Mr. Steven, now boasts an even more massive net, one that’s four times the size of the one it had before. That larger surface area should help increase the chances of Mr. Steven actually making a catch, which it hasn’t been able to do.
Mr. Steven is specifically focused on catching the nose cone of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket following a launch. That’s the bulbous structure that sits at the top of the rocket, covering the satellite during the flight. Once the rocket is in space, the nose cone, or payload fairing, splits in half and the pieces fall back to Earth. Typically this hardware isn’t recovered, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been eager to figure out a way to save the payload fairing halves in order to use them again on future flights.
“Imagine you had $6 million in cash in a palette flying through the air, and it’s going to smash into the ocean,” Musk said during a press conference last year. “Would you try to recover that? Yes. Yes, you would.”
SpaceX’s solution has been to slow down the fairing halves as they fall so that the netted Mr. Steven can catch them. The halves are equipped with small thrusters to help guide them back to Earth, as well as special parachutes to decrease the speed of the descent. Both also have their own onboard guidance systems to help them navigate back down. Then once they get close to the surface, it’s the job of Mr. Steven to get underneath one of the halves to provide a gentle, dry place to land instead of the saltwater ocean.
Unfortunately, Mr. Steven hasn’t made any catches yet, though SpaceX says the boat has come close. Now its ample net may be able to snag one soon enough. SpaceX’s next attempt to recover a fairing will occur during one of the company’s launches later this month.