SpaceX currently lands most of its Falcon 9 first stage boosters on the drone barges “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read the Instructions.” Now Elon Musk has revealed plans for a new, fully automated drone barge with the equally humorous name “A Shortfall of Gravitas.”
Unlike the previously two drone barges, this new drone ship will not need a tug ship to bring it and its cargo back to port. Elon Musk has previously said that a third barge was under construction but did not release very many details such as the name.
To date, SpaceX has successfully landed a first stage booster 89 times out of 100 tries. Of the 89 successful landings, 65 of them successfully landed on one of the two existing drone barges. A few missed the barge and went into the ocean but didn’t suffer a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event during the landing attempt. SpaceX’s drone barges are, fortunately, equipped to fish them out of the water.
SpaceX has reused the successfully retrieved boosters a total of 68 times with the booster with the serial number B1051 seeing the most launches at 10. It developed reusable rockets as one way to bring the cost of space launches down as opposed to using a rocket booster once and then letting it rust in the bottom of the ocean.
SpaceX has also saved on costs by reusing the Crew Dragon that had been used for the Demo-2 mission, in which Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were launched to the ISS in the final test flight for SpaceX’s part of the Commercial Crew program, for the Crew-2 mission, which is still docked to the International Space Station. This is the first time that a privately owned spacecraft has been used for more than one crewed mission.
The company has reused the “Dragon 1” for its cargo delivery runs to the International Space Station a total of 9 times. The newer Cargo Dragon has not been reflown yet, though SpaceX has successfully retrieved one after splashdown.
When a booster successfully lands on a drone ship or landing zone, it can be reused with a minimum of refurbishing when compared to ones that have been retrieved from the corrosive ocean water. SpaceX had also initially tried to catch the fairings that protect cargos during launch with nets but ended the practice after it was only successful nine times out of 32 tries. It has reused half or all of a fairing on a total of 22 launches.
The name of the new drone barge did seem to spark its share of humor from Twitter users. “[T]his video needs the Star Wars Imperial March music over it!” said the Twitter user Glynn R. Frank. The Dogecoin-themed Twitter account Shibetoshi Nakamoto joked, “Looks like something Jared from Silicon Valley would get stuck on.”
Eventually, SpaceX will have the capacity to launch rockets at sea as well as land the boosters. Elon Musk has recently reported progress on the former oil rigs that it is converting into launch platforms. Although this might not address all the concerns that Boca Chica, Texas, residents about having a SpaceX test launch facility in their backyards, they may be relieved that more of SpaceX’s work can be moved offshore in the future.