SpaceX Didn’t Land A Rocket Last Night, But They Did Catch The Fairing

Amos-17 SpaceX launch

Last night’s Amos-17 communications satellite launch was a bit unusual compared to most SpaceX launches. No attempt was made to land the rocket’s first stage. But that doesn’t mean SpaceX’s trademark reusability wasn’t felt throughout the launch.

While the first stage didn’t land back on Earth, the company did manage to catch the rocket’s fairing (nose cone) with its speedy ship GO Ms. Tree (formerly known as Mr. Steven, the name change happened after the ship was sold to Guice Offshore).

Elon Musk jumped on Twitter early this morning to share the news.

That’s $6 million worth of hardware slowly floating towards GO Ms. Tree. What we don’t see in frame are the control thrusters also used to help steer the fairing towards the boat. It’s more complicated than strapping a set of parachutes and driving the boat to the right spot. Thrusters, a guidance system, parachutes, and a fast boat all come together to catch the fairing.

Last night’s catch is the second successful retrieval of a Falcon 9 fairing. The first happened back in June. SpaceX engineers will be going over both of them to see how they’ll need to be refurbished to hit the skies again.

Last night’s first stage didn’t land, but it also wasn’t its first trip to space. In fact, it was the third. The first stage did some of the heavy lifting for the Telstar-19 VANTAGE mission in July 2018 and the Es’hail-2 mission in November 2018. Let’s take a look back at those landings.

This Falcon 9’s third launch was also its final because the communications satellite weighed 6.5 tons and needed to be placed in geostationary transfer orbit. Amos also received this launch for free after a static test failure in 2016 destroyed the Amos-6 satellite.

When’s the next SpaceX launch? Exact dates are hard to come by right now, but it looks like November and December launches are planned.

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