SpaceX is getting painfully close to picking up a part of its rocket that falls from the sky after each launch. A new video, released by the company on Twitter, shows a recent crash test of the nose cone of the rocket, the bulbous projectile that protects the satellite of the vehicle and then breaks during the flight. In filming, the nose cone almost landing on SpaceX's rescue boat, but eventually falls into the water.
Although the video is difficult to watch, it suggests that SpaceX may soon be able to perform a successful nose cone recovery after a future mission. And that could provide some savings for SpaceX. This hardware, also known as payload fairing, costs about $ 6 million for each flight, according to the company. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is eager to save these expensive parts for use again – just as the company does with its Falcon 9 rockets.
"Imagine you had $ 6 million in cash on a pallet flying through the air, and that's going to hit the ocean," Musk said. "Would you try to recover it? Yes. Yes, you would.
Over the past year, the company has been trying to perfect a crazy routine to get these fairings involving a mixture of parachute and boats. After SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets reach space, the fairings split in half and fall to Earth. Each half is equipped with propellers and a guidance system that helps control the descent to the surface. They also deploy specialized parachutes to slow their fall. Then, when they arrive near the ocean, a boat sporting a giant net – affectionately named Steven – arrives to pick up half the fairing. (Presumably, another boat will be needed in the future to retrieve the two pieces.)
SpaceX tried this technique after three flights, and none was successful. The company even increased the size of the network in Steven, but still had no luck. To enhance the process, SpaceX has been performing crash tests with Mr. Steven, releasing a fairing from a helicopter, and then trying to catch him with the boat. Another video released by SpaceX on January 7 shows the fairing losing the grid in just a few feet. In the latest video, released yesterday, part of the fairing actually touches the net, but in the end is not enough to stay on the boat.
Steven, who is based in the West Coast, will soon make the East Coast trip, where he will try to capture the falling careers of SpaceX's missions in Florida. In the coming months, we may see a successful recovery in the Atlantic.