This is what a payload fairing looks like as it returns from space

Enlarge / One half of a Falcon 9 payload fairing deploys its parafoil. (credit: Elon Musk/Instagram)

SpaceX has been experimenting during recent launches with recovering the payload fairing at the top of its Falcon 9 rocket. The fairing is a $6 million shroud that protects the satellite during its turbulent ride through the atmosphere and into outer space. We haven’t really seen what this kind of recovery looks like as it happens—until now.

On Tuesday night, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared a photo of one half of a payload fairing opening its parafoil after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. In his Instagram post, Musk did not specify which mission this photo is from.

After experimenting with how to control the fairing during its return through the atmosphere in 2017, SpaceX had enough confidence to hire a boat named Mr. Steven to try to catch the fairings as they fell into the Pacific Ocean. During the PAZ launch in February, the fairing narrowly missed the boat, but achieved a soft water landing. During a launch of Iridium satellites in March, the parafoil twisted, and the fairing again missed the boat.

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This is what a payload fairing looks like as it returns from space