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New SpaceX drone spacecraft arrives in Port Canaveral – Spaceflight Now


A new SpaceX drone spacecraft named “A Shortfall of Gravitas” was towed to Port Canaveral on Thursday, completing a redesign of SpaceX’s rocket landing platforms to support upcoming launches from Florida and California.

“A Shortfall of Gravitas” was towed from a construction facility in Louisiana after completing an initial round of sea trials. SpaceX crews at Port Canaveral will finish preparing the drone for landings off the Falcon rocket boosters .

The name of the new landing pad is a nod to ‘Experiencing Significant Lack of Gravity’, a spacecraft featured in the late Scottish author Iain’s ‘Culture’ sci-fi novel series. Mr. Banks.

SpaceX’s other two drones are also named as sentient planet-sized ships in Banks’ novels: “Just Read the Instructions” and “Of course, I still love you.”

Drones allow SpaceX to salvage and reuse Falcon 9 boosters, reducing costs and increasing the company’s launch rate.

With three drone ships now in its fleet, SpaceX is configured for a steady rate of flights from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, following a lull in Falcon 9 launch activity at the launch site. from the west coast.

SpaceX has launched only one Falcon 9 rocket mission from Vandenberg in the past two years. During this mission, the Falcon 9 booster returned to a landing on a platform near the launch site at Vandenberg.

Starting in the last week of July, SpaceX plans to launch a series of Falcon 9 missions from Vandenberg carrying Starlink Internet satellites into orbit. The Falcon 9 boosters used on these launches will land offshore due to the heavy weight of the Starlink payloads, leaving insufficient propellant on the rocket to reverse course and return to the launch site.

SpaceX recently moved the “Of course, I still love you” drone from Florida to the Port of Los Angeles in preparation for upcoming Starlink missions. The company is expected to launch Starlink missions from Vandenberg once a month, kicking off the next phase of the global internet network rollout.

The ship passed through the Panama Canal on a barge before arriving in Southern California on July 6.

SpaceX’s new drone, named “A Shortfall of Gravitas,” arrived in Port Canaveral on Thursday. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX will use the new rotating drone ship with “Just Read the Instructions” to support the Cape Canaveral missions. The company previously used a similar rotation of the other two drones at Port Canaveral, supporting 20 Falcon 9 launches and landing attempts during the first half of this year.

It can take up to a week to deploy the drone, retrieve the rocket, and bring it back to port, and there is no delay in the launch. Turnaround times can be even longer once the booster is unloaded in port and the ship is ready for another sea voyage. The presence of two drone ships in Florida will allow SpaceX to continue its busy launch schedule. .

Later this year, SpaceX will deploy the two ships from Florida for a double sea landing of the two side boosters during the upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket launch for the US Space Force. SpaceX will dedicate the Falcon Heavy’s central stage to this launch due to the mission requirements of placing military payloads into a high-altitude geosynchronous orbit, according to a Space Force spokesperson.

Each drone is adorned with a bull’s eye with a stylized “X” logo. The landing platform is about the size of a football field, and the ships are based on the hulls of Marmac barges originally built for other purposes.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, announced that the company is building a third drone in 2018.

“The team did a great job! It will be epic to see offshore oil rigs converted to ocean space ports for Starship, ”Musk tweeted Thursday, referring to SpaceX’s work to outfit giant oil rigs for heavy launcher launches and landings. next generation of the company.

The new drone ship has a sleeker look than SpaceX’s first two rocket landing craft. It has a Starlink antenna to connect to SpaceX’s space broadband network, and the supporting equipment is housed inside the ship’s structure for better protection against rocket blast during landing.

Underwater thrusters allow the ship to maintain its position in the ocean while awaiting each rocket landing. A support team is stationed on a nearby ship.

Improvements were also made to the lighting on “A Shortfall of Gravitas,” and Musk tweeted that the new ship is designed to be fully self-contained, unlike the other two ships, which require a tug to get to the area. landing and coming back.

SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” drone arrives at the Port of Los Angeles on July 6 to support future Falcon 9 missions from Space Force Base Vandenberg. Credit: Gene Blevins / LA Daily News

SpaceX has successfully recovered Falcon rocket thrusters 89 times since the company’s first rocket landing in December 2015. The first successful thruster landing on a drone occurred in April 2016.

Sixty-six of SpaceX’s Falcon booster landings to date have taken place on a drone, with another 20 successful landings on SpaceX’s two land landing zones at the Cape Canaveral space station. Three Falcon boosters returned to the landing at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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