SpaceX’s reuse program goes beyond rocket landings, as the company is also focused on recovering and re-flying payload fairings, the protective coverings for satellites during launch. A recent photo shared by SpaceX showcases the team aboard the recovery vessel Doug in the Atlantic, securing a payload fairing half after a Starlink launch from Florida. The fairing half in question had already supported an impressive 13 missions.
This particular photo was taken at dawn, offering a stunning backdrop of oranges and yellows in the sky. While 13 missions for a fairing half is remarkable, a recent launch on November 3rd from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station set an even bigger record. It marked the 18th liftoff for one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket first stages, establishing a new level of reusability for the company.
The mission successfully deployed an additional 22 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Currently, there are over 5,000 operational satellites in SpaceX’s broadband megaconstellation, according to astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.
It is worth noting that the Falcon 9 booster from the aforementioned launch safely landed on a ship at sea, only 8.5 minutes after liftoff. This achievement underscores the potential for future reuse.
In the past, SpaceX attempted to catch falling fairing halves with fast boats and large nets. However, the company later realized that exposure to corrosive saltwater did not pose a significant obstacle to fairing reuse. Furthermore, the process of fishing the fairings out of the water proved to be much easier and more practical. Consequently, SpaceX retired the net boats in 2021.
SpaceX’s commitment to reusing both rockets and fairings demonstrates their ongoing efforts to revolutionize space travel and make it more cost-effective. By recovering and re-flying these components, SpaceX continues to push the boundaries of space exploration.