Last Thursday, SpaceX performed its first full-blown fairing recovery test during the Falcon 9 launch of PAZ and two Starlink demonstration satellites. The attempt involved a new addition to the SpaceX recovery fleet, Mr. Steven, complete with a giant net that is designed to catch returning fairings. While the catch during the PAZ mission was unsuccessful, the other phases of the recovery process showed significant progress.
The fairing is a nose cone structure which encapsulates the payloads on the rocket. It not only protects the payloads during ascent, but it also keeps the vehicle aerodynamic. Once the rocket is in the vacuum of outer space, the fairing is no longer needed. Therefore, it separates into two halves and falls back to Earth.
To reduce the cost of launch, SpaceX hopes to recover and reuse the fairing which represents an estimated $6 million – about 10% of the Falcon 9’s launch cost. Since the five meter diameter fairing splits into two halves when jettisoned, two recoveries are required per launch – with each saving about $3 million worth of hardware.
Currently, SpaceX’s fairing recovery routine works as follows.
Shortly after separation, the two fairing halves use cold gas thrusters and ...