SpaceX deploys rocket recovery fleet for next Starlink launch

So far this year, SpaceX has launched nine missions, including sending two astronauts to the International Space Station. But the California-based rocket builder is not slowing down. On the heels of two successful missions just days apart, SpaceX is preparing to launch its 10th rocket of the year.

Estimated for liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 on June 12, a Falcon 9 rocket will take to the skies, lofting yet another batch of Starlink satellites. This marks the sixth Starlink launch of 2020, and with another two launches on the books for June, this puts SpaceX on track for a record launch pace.

To prepare for the upcoming launch, SpaceX’s fleet of recovery ships have left the Port and are on their way to their designated recovery zones.

GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief have left Port Canaveral in advance of SpaceX’s next launch, estimated for Friday, June 12. Credit: R. Angle/Teslarati

On Tuesday, Go Ms Chief and GO Ms Tree, SpaceX’s two mobile fairing catchers left Port Canaveral on their next attempt to catch some falling fairings. To date, Ms. Tree had had 3 successful catches out of 13 attempts, and Ms. Chief has yet to snag a fairing. Perhaps this mission, if the weather cooperates, we may see an epic double catch.

Following the last Starlink mission, neither ship was able to catch a fairing, but instead fished them out of the ocean. Once the vessel returned to port, eagle-eyed onlooks were able to snap some images of the returned fairings. One appeared to be damaged, while the other looked like some simple refurbishments would get it back to flying shape.

To date, SpaceX has flown recycled fairings on three missions, and aims to continue that practice. The fairing, also known as the nose cone, protects the rocket’s payloads and it flies through the atmosphere. The fairings are jettisoned at a specific point in flight, and have historically been discarded in the ocean.

Ms. Tree’s second successful fairing catch occurred on August 6th, some 45 minutes after Falcon 9 lifted off with the AMOS-17 communications satellite. (SpaceX)

However, these two pieces of hardware account for nearly one tenth the price of the entire rocket, which is why SpaceX wants to reuse them. Each piece fetches a price tag of $3 million, so by reusing them, SpaceX could save as much as $6 million permission.

To that end, the company has outfitted two boats, Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief, with giant nets. Acting as mobile catcher’s mitts, the boats sit in a designated recovery zone, waiting for the falling fairing half to glide into its outstretched net.

During the last Starlink mission, rough seas interfered with the boat’s attempt at a catch. However, SpaceX was able to recover at least one fairing piece in tact and will aim to try again on Friday’s mission.

Drone ship Of Course I Still Love You returned to Port Canaveral on December 7th with Falcon 9 booster B1059. OCISLY was joined by a second drone ship for the first time ever just days later. (SpaceX)

SpaceX also recently released video footage of the fairing jettisoning during the last Starlink launch.

The twin fairing catchers are not the only boats headed out to seas. After returning the Demo-2 booster to Port, SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, has once again departed Port Canaveral on a quest to catch a booster.

It’s counterpart, Just Read the Instructions, recently completed its first booster recovery in the Atlantic, as it previously serviced SpaceX’s West Coast launch operations. Now that the company has two drone ships operating in the same ocean, we could see an uptick in launches and landings.

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SpaceX deploys rocket recovery fleet for next Starlink launch
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