SpaceX managed another first for its reusable rocketry efforts during its most recent launch when it caught part of the fairing in a giant net mounted on a boat named “Ms. Tree.” The nosecone component, used to protect the Falcon Heavy’s cargo during its June 25 launch, typically is either lost or falls into the ocean, where it can sometimes be recovered, albeit at great cost.
Now, we have video of the fairing returning back through the atmosphere, and of the actual moment the fairing touches down on the barge, captured by onboard cameras set up by SpaceX. The fairing-return video, below, gives you a good sense of what it’s like when one of these components returns to Earth in terms of the stresses that are on the hardware from the extreme heat generated by friction from the Earth’s atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the video of the fairing touching down on Ms. Tree isn’t quite as dramatic — you basically only see the net change shape slightly as the parachute-guided hunk of metal shielding touches down.
Recovering it means not “throwing away $6 million” according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX has already reduced its launch costs for Falcon 9 rockets from around $62 million to about $50 million by making use of “flight proven” (read: previously used) booster cores, and its Falcon Heavy rockets also save by reflying boosters, with total launch costs ranging from between $90 million and $150 million depending on whether it’s a reusable or expendable configuration. Saving another $6 million by being able to consistently recapture and re-fly fairings would be a significantly positive bump for the bottom line.
That said, SpaceX still has to demonstrate its ability to actually refurbish and re-fly a fairing once recovered, and it’s also only managed to make this catch once so far, so it’ll need to show it can do it consistently to realize this part of its reusable rocket approach.