In another major step in the reduction of spaceflight costs, SpaceX successfully recovered the payload fairing during its recent Falcon Heavy megarocket launch and plans to employ it on another mission in 2019.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said, “Both fairing halves recovered. Will be flown on Starlink mission later this year,” via Twitter on April 11, where he posted photos of the space hardware.
Payload fairings are the nose cones that surround and protect satellites during launch. SpaceX has yet to re-fly any fairings, but doing so has always been part of the plan. The company outfits each fairing half with an avionics system and thrusters, which it uses to steer itself to a soft, parachute-aided ocean splashdown.
SpaceX has gone to such trouble because fairings are expensive and therefore worth reusing. Each one costs $6 million, Musk has said — about 10% of the cost of a launch of one of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets. (The two-stage Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy use the same payload fairing. The Heavy is basically three modified Falcon 9 first stages strapped together; the central booster is topped with a single-engine second stage and the payload.)
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