Enlarge / This launch of the PAZ mission, in February, marked the first payload fairing recovery attempt by Mr. Steven. (credit: SpaceX)
About five weeks ago, SpaceX launched the PAZ radar imagery satellite from its California-based site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. A few minutes after the launch, once the Falcon 9 rocket had pushed the satellite into outer space, the protective fairing around it separated. Typically these payload fairings, valued at about $6 million, are lost after falling back to Earth, where they sink in the ocean.
Not only does this cost money, of course, but the construction of new payload fairings takes up valuable real estate, and workforce attention, at SpaceX’s factory in Hawthorne California. Several large rooms are given over to the task. So in recent years the company had tested options for safely returning the payload fairings to the ocean, and then “catching” them with a boat.
With the PAZ launch, the company tried this for the first time. The payload fairing returns through Earth’s atmosphere at a very high velocity, about eight times the speed of sound. To account for this, SpaceX had installed on-board thrusters, and a guidance system, to help steer it through the atmosphere. Near the surface, a parafoil would deploy to help arrest its descent, potentially allowing the fairing to be captured in a ship modified for this task—Mr. Steven.
Source: FS – All – Science – News
Watch live: SpaceX to launch 10 satellites, attempt a fairing recovery