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article imageMr. Steven, SpaceX's fairing recovery ship, given four new arms

By Karen Graham     Jul 11, 2018 in Science
SpaceX engineers and technicians have completed the installation of all four of Falcon fairing recovery vessel Mr. Steven’s new and dramatically larger arms, as well as eight giant struts.
The extent of the upgrade to Mr. Steven's catcher-mitt-like retrieval apparatus is making it larger by a factor of four, according to CEO Elon Musk. The whole makeover was accomplished at SpaceX’s recently-leased Berth 240, the company’s preferred location for berthing its fleet of rocket recovery vessels, and conducting Falcon 9 booster recovery ops, reports Teslarati.
To give folks an idea of just how large the new arms are on Mr. Steven, the net that will be used to catch the rocket fairings is monstrous in size - Think 6,000 square meters (65,000 square feet), or 1.5 acres. There is little doubt that SpaceX will be able to catch Falcon 9 payload fairings with a net as large or larger than an American and European football field.
For a quick comparison, the autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) SpaceX uses to recover its Falcon 9 and Heavy boosters have a surface area of about 45,000 square feet, a little more than 10% smaller than Mr. Steven’s new net.
If installation continues to go as planned, Mr. Steven will be back on catcher’s duty as early as the Iridium-7 mission now scheduled for July 25.
Fairing recovery critical to SpaceX goals
Mr. Steven joined the SpaceX marine fleet in time for the February 2018 launch of the PAZ radio communications satellite, along with two Internet satellites into low-Earth orbit.
The ship joined the well-known drone vessels, Of course, I still love you, which operates in the Atlantic Ocean. and Just Read the Instructions, which operates for launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Falcon fairing half as seen from our catcher’s mitt in boat form  Mr. Steven. No apparent damage f...
Falcon fairing half as seen from our catcher’s mitt in boat form, Mr. Steven. No apparent damage from reentry and splashdown.
Elon Musk
The recovery vessel failed to catch the returning fairing parts but was able to snap one piece out of the ocean, but it is unusable due to corrosion from the saltwater. Instead, it sits near the SpaceX dock at Port Canaveral, according to NASA. This piece of the fairing illustrates the necessity of catching the rocket parts before they land in the ocean.
The fairing is the nose cone structure which encapsulates the payloads. The ear-plug shaped casing sits on top of the rocket. This is what shields the payload during launch. It also helps to keep the launch vehicle aerodynamic.
Once the rocket reaches the vacuum of outer space, the fairing is no longer needed. This is when it separates into two pieces and returns to Earth. The fairing on a Falcon rocket costs an estimated $6.0 million, or about 10 percent of the Falcon 9's launch cost. So with a fairing split into two halves, each worth $3.0 million, two recoveries are needed for each launch.
So, shortly after separation, the two fairing halves use cold gas thrusters and a guidance system to control themselves as they plummet back to Earth at up to eight times the speed of sound. Once they enter Earth's atmosphere, a parafoil is deployed. This allows the fairing halves to steer themselves toward a general location on the ocean.
The parafoils have been one of the largest challenges for SpaceX's fairing recovery. Several weeks ago, Musk stated, “It turns out that when you pop the parachute on the fairing, you’ve got this giant awkward thing. It tends to interfere with the airflow on the parachute. It gets all twisty.”
However, with the much larger net on Mr. Steven, things should be much easier. One thing Inverse noted was the new net will cover the wheelhouse, allowing the recovery vessel greater maneuverability and speed in getting to the drop site.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell stated that the company would aim to conduct 24 launches next year. If Mr. Steven is able to recover the fairings from a few of these missions, it could be the start of considerably more affordable space travel.
And that is the bottom line for SpaceX, making spaceflight more affordable while maintaining a high standard of safety. And Inverse writes that meeting the goal of recovering rocket fairings - along with rocket boosters - could lay the groundwork for a future where interplanetary travel is no longer seen as an insurmountable mountain.
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