Launching a Tesla Roadster into space was only the beginning for Elon Musk and SpaceX's ever-expanding list of spaceflight firsts. On Thursday, February 22, SpaceX just narrowly missed adding another "first" to its list: successfully catching the fairing parafoil—or "nose cone"—from its PAZ Falcon 9 mission, which deployed two of SpaceX's Starlink satellites, as part of Musk's plan to eventually blanket the Earth in wi-fi.
The fairing, which is made of carbon fiber composites, protects the rocket's payload (usually satellites, food, and other equipment) as the rocket leaves our atmosphere and enters low-Earth orbit and beyond. Using a barge named Mr. Steven, SpaceX attempted to catch the fairing in a giant net as it floated back down to Earth. Unfortunately, as Musk noted on Twitter, Mr. Steven missed catching the fairing by a few hundred meters, although he is confident that with slightly bigger parachutes, they will be able to slow down the fairing's descent enough to catch it. Thankfully, the fairing landed in the water intact, but it still came as a disappointment to those behind the scenes at SpaceX.
You may be wondering why Musk and SpaceX are devoting so much time and energy to catching the rocket's nose cone. Well, the answer is quite simple: it's expensive as hell. The fairing itself consists of two half-cones, which are 17 meters wide and 43 feet tall, and cost $3 million per half. SpaceX's goal has always been to reduce the cost of spaceflight by creating reusable rockets, and considering that the fairing parafoil costs approximately $6 million, being able to reuse them in future launches is essential to keeping costs down.
"The analogy I use with my team is, 'Guys, imagine we had 6 million dollars floating on a pallet of cash,'" Musk said at the International Space Station Research and Design conference in July 2017. "Six million dollars is falling through the sky. Would we try to catch it?"
If Mr. Steven is any indication, try they most certainly will.
But wait, there's more! Today's episode of Muskwatch also delves into more details of The Boring Company's burgeoning partnership with Hyperloop and expansion plans; footage of the first two Starlink global internet satellites deploying; and much more.
Muskwatch airs on Nerdist.com and YouTube every Tuesday, but you can hack the planet and watch it two full days earlier on Sunday if you’re an Alpha subscriber. Find out how you can get 30 days free (and be 48 hours smarter than your dumb friends) right here.
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