SpaceX marine fleet kicks into high gear

As SpaceX looks to continue its quest to achieve over 140 launches this year, its marine fleet is functioning at an insane pace.

SpaceX currently operates a trio of autonomous spaceport drone ships, two fairing recovering ships, and two Crew/Cargo Dragon recovery ships.

A Falcon 9 returns to Port Canaveral aboard ‘Just Read the Instructions’ with Bob towing (Credit Richard Angle)

In years past, SpaceX has been able to comfortably launch missions and have plenty of time for a droneship to bring a Falcon 9 back to port before their next mission would be up and have time for crew rest, but with their increased cadence last year and into this year, SpaceX is starting to see record turnarounds between arriving back into port and disembarking for their next landing attempt.

The most recent example is the droneship ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas’ returning a Falcon 9 to port just ~50 hours after landing, traveling over 600km and through the Bahamas, unloading the Falcon 9 onto shore, and leaving back to sea for another Starlink mission the following evening with fairing recovery ship Doug tagging along to recover the fairings after their own trip back to Earth.

The other East Coast-based droneship, ‘Just Read the Instructions, ‘ also completed its own ~12-hour turnaround to support another Falcon 9 landing, with support ship Bob assisting in that fairing recovery. Over on the West Coast, the droneship, ‘Of Course I Still Love You,’ is already out at its respective landing zone to support a Starlink mission.

Having these vessels ready and out to sea gives SpaceX the chance to support a possible triple header later this evening, with three Falcon 9 launches possible within around five hours of each other.

The fairing recovery ships, named after the NASA astronauts who completed the Demo 2 mission, Bob & Doug, stay consistently busy as well, helping recover fairings to save SpaceX the roughly $6 million it costs to make a new set. In some cases, these ships will stay out for two straight missions and return to port with 4 fairings. The ships also use their cranes to move recovery personnel onto the droneships. They are capable of towing them, but that is usually reserved for a dedicated tug boat that is hired by SpaceX.

Bob and Doug at Port Canaveral (Credit Richard Angle)

The Crew/Cargo Dragon recovery ships, also named after NASA astronauts Megan McArthur (Crew-2) and Shannon Walker (Crew-1), are out to sea pretty frequently. When not recovering Crews or science experiments in Cargo Dragons, they conduct many training exercises to keep their skills high.

Fairing recovery ship Doug with Dragon recovery ship Shannon (then named GO Navigator) (Credit Richard Angle)

Having these ships able to maintain such a fast pace is in itself impressive, as the ocean is unforgiving at times, as evidenced by the recently lost Booster 1058, which toppled over in rough seas and was lost.

As the launch count climbs, more and more pressure will be placed upon the fleet as they look to maintain their safety and fast-paced work, ensuring SpaceX can keep setting industry records.

Do you think SpaceX needs to add a couple more ships and maybe another droneship?

Questions or comments? Shoot me an email at, or Tweet me @RDAnglePhoto.

Richard Angle: Launch journalist, specializing in launch photography. Based on the Space Coast, a short drive from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pads.
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