SpaceX has set a new record for the fastest processing time for rocket reuse. Previously held by NASA with the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which flew after 54 days in 1985, the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster, which launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Monday July 20, started again after only 51 days.
The missile was previously used for the first astronaut crew dragon flight that took Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station on May 30. Monday's performance also broke SpaceX's own turnaround record by a few weeks. The company hopes to cut processing time from weeks to days to make its launch services more efficient.
The mission on Monday also had another premiere when two ships with net equipment stationed in the Atlantic caught both parts of the missile fairing – or nose cone – of the Falcon 9 as they floated back to Earth shortly after launch. The fairing holds the missile's payload and is discarded when the payload is deployed.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, shared the news in a Twitter post:
Both halves of the fairing are caught by @ SpaceX ships from space!
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk), July 20, 2020
It is the first time for SpaceX that two ships successfully catch both parts of the fairing. This enables an important part of their search for a reusable missile system for space exploration. The first stage booster can already be safely brought back to Earth for reuse, as can the capsule located on the rocket. The SpaceX engineers are currently working on how to restore the second stage booster. Overall, this is a more difficult challenge since it has to be shut down shortly after discarding the first stage after it has reached orbital speed.
So far, SpaceX has attempted to catch only half of the fairing to perfect the process, but the effort has been a success and failure, as the section sometimes missed the ship's huge net and landed in the water. This time, however, two ships each caught part of the fairing for the first time.
Catching the $ 6 million fairing saves you salt water damage, allowing it to be reused with minimal maintenance.
In its complete condition, the cladding is approximately 13 meters high and 5 meters wide and weighs approximately 1,000 kilograms. Each of the two parts contains cold nitrogen thrusters to ensure a stable descent when returning to Earth.
The system then deploys a GPS-steerable parafoil (similar to a parachute) at a height of about five miles to slow the section down so that ships can fix their positions.
Tuesday's mission, which took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, deployed a military satellite to South Korea. The launch was scheduled to take place last week, but was delayed because the team was investigating a problem with the second phase.