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article imageAfter launch of satellites, SpaceX tries to catch nose cone

By Karen Graham     Feb 23, 2018 in Technology
Early on Thursday, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the PAZ radio communications satellite, along with two Internet satellites into low-Earth orbit. A first-time attempt by the space company to catch the nose cone failed - But not by much.
The Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast was successful, launching the Paz radar-imaging satellite for Spanish company Hisdesat into orbit, along with two small prototype craft designed to pave the way for SpaceX's huge Starlink Internet-satellite constellation.
The Falcon 9 used a pre-flown first stage, part of Elon Musk's cost-savings measures to develop fully reusable launch systems. However, no attempt was made to do a booster landing - not because SpaceX can't land a booster, though.
SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket from California  carrying a Spanish military satellite on February...
SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket from California, carrying a Spanish military satellite on February 22, 2018
Robyn Beck, AFP
Instead, the space company was out to try something new - The recovery of the rocket's nose cone. Also known as the payload fairing, the ear-plug shaped casing sits on top of the rocket. This is what shields the payload, in this case, the satellites, during launch.
Once the nose cone reaches the desired altitude in space, it breaks apart into two pieces that fall back to Earth. Normally, no attempt is made to recover the fairings, but Musk is all about finding ways to save what is actually an expensive piece of hardware.
“Imagine you had $6 million in cash in a palette flying through the air, and it’s going to smash into the ocean,” Musk said during a press conference in March 2017. “Would you try to recover that? Yes. Yes, you would.”
Mr. Steven  with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on  will try to catch the fairing.
Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, will try to catch the fairing.
Elon Musk
Enter Mr. Steven and its catcher's mitt
The carbon-fiber fairing is built in-house by SpaceX and can be used on both the Falcon 9 and the heavier Falcon Heavy rockets. The fairing consists of two half-cones, which together extend 17 feet (5.2 meters) wide and 43 feet (13.1 meters) high. Each half-cone costs $3.0 million, so there is good incentive to try to recover the fairing.
We are all familiar with the drone ships, 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.
But Mr. Steven is a new addition to the SpaceX marine fleet. According to, Mr. Steven is a high-speed passenger ship built in 2015. While the ship is designated as an "offshore supply vessel, with the vessel's refitting, Mr. Steven has now been dubbed a “netted-claw boat.”
The drone ship   Just Read the Instructions
The drone ship, "Just Read the Instructions"
Elen Musk
The naming of the vessel is just a random choice, according to Musk, but the boat is also owned by a Mr. Steven, LLC, but is operated by Sea Tran Marine. The vessel measures 205 feet (62 meters) long and can reach speeds of nearly 37 mph (59 km/h, or 32 knots), The deck is 136 feet long by 27 feet wide (41 by 8 meters).
The refitting of Mr. Steven involved welding a giant "catcher's mitt" contraption onto the ship that would basically catch the fairing as it came down. When the payload fairing has done its job, the pieces fall back through the Earth's atmosphere at nearly 10,000 km/h, or Mach 8, before a parafoil slowed down their descent.
However, the piece of nose cone just missed being caught. “Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water. Should be able to catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down the descent,” explained SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a tweet.
SpaceX will have another launch on Sunday, but Mr. Steven won't be involved because the Sunday launch will be on the Florida Space Coast. But Musk said on Twitter that Mr. Steven will next see action in "about a month."
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