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SpaceX Launches Broadband Satellites Into Space, Nearly Catches Fairing


After the fanfair of the Falcon Heavy launch earlier this month a seemingly routine Falcon 9 launch would normally seem fairly trivial. And for the most part the primary mission, putting a Spanish radar satellite into orbit is as trivial as space launches get. However it was the two secondary missions that most people were keeping an eye on.

As well as the Spanish Paz satellite a secondary payload was on board. Two of SpaceX’s own satellites – dubbed Tintin A & B by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk – also hitched a ride to space on the rocket.

These prototypes will test out functions and hardware for SpaceX’s planned satellite broadband network. The company has ambitious plans to supply high speed internet via a satellite network to all corners of the earth. If completed the network will consist of some 12,000 satellites. With that many satellites to put into space the Falcon Heavy with its large lifting capacity will no doubt come in useful.

Also included in the mission plan was an attempt to recover the payload fairing. This cone shaped shell sits atop the rocket protecting the payload during launch. Once in space the fairing breaks away into two pieces usually splashing down in the ocean.

Each fairing costs roughly $6 million. Reusing them would be a pretty big deal when it comes to getting costs down.

The company equipped each half with small thrusters to control the direction of descent with small parachute like foils used to slow the fairing down. In the ocean below a recovery ship named Mr Steven waited, armed with a giant net much like a baseball catcher’s mitt.

This is the first time SpaceX has tried to catch a fairing and they missed it by a few hundred metres. One half of the fairing touched down gently in the ocean seemingly intact. Afterwards Musk said it was just a matter of adding larger parafoils. He hopes the company will iron out these issues in the next 6 months or so.

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The rocket itself for this launch was allowed to splash down in the ocean having been used once before already.

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