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Watch SpaceX’s ship narrowly miss the mark in nosecone catch test

Published Jan 9th, 2019 5:06PM EST
spacex fairing catch
Image: Terry Renna/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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SpaceX is already the worldwide leader in reusable rocket technology, having demonstrated its capability to launch and reuse rockets several times over in the name of cost savings and convenience. However, the company is still trying to perfect its technique when it comes to catching the potentially reusable nosecones that sit on the top of its fancy rockets, and it’s still running into snags.

In a new video of a recent test, SpaceX’s “Mr. Steven” net-equipped ship is seen attempting to snag a nosecone fairing dropped from a helicopter. As you’ll see from the footage, it’s not nearly as easy as it might sound.

The helicopter carries the fairing up to a lofty altitude and then drops it, simulating what would happen if the fairing were actually falling from the edge of space after being jettisoned from a real rocket. The fairing’s parachute deploys as planned, and then it’s up to the ship to make it into position and catch the price component as it falls.

In this particular test, the ship just barely misses its mark, appearing to miss the fairing by mere feet as the rocket part slowly drifts to its resting place on the ocean surface. The net that is being used on Mr. Steven is actually around four times as large as the one originally carried by the ship, and SpaceX was hoping that extra reach would be enough to make the process easier.

The company has tried a number of things to make the catching maneuver easier, including upgrading the parachute to prevent it from collapsing during descent and to further slow it. None of these things matters if the ship can’t make it into the right position, but it’s this kind of trial and error that SpaceX seems to relish.

The company is no stranger to failure and celebrates the shortcomings that ultimately lead it to success. They’ll figure it out eventually.