Reusable Payload Fairings of Falcon 9

The nose cone is the cone-shaped part at the top of a rocket that resists air resistance and friction.

In space rockets, the payload, namely the satellite, takes place in the nose cone. For this reason, it is also called payload fairing. It usually has a cone-cylinder combination shape. The payload fairing also provides clean room conditions for some satellites until they reach space.

SpaceX's attempts to recover and reuse the payload fairings began in 2020. The cost of the 14-meter-long fairings produced in carbon composite and aluminum is estimated at $6 million. Considering that one launch of the Falcon 9 rocket costs $62 million, it's a significant amount.

When the space rockets reach an altitude of around 100 km, the payload fairings complete their mission. After that, atmospheric friction is negligible. In order not to add unnecessary weight, the fairings are separated from the rocket. In conventional rockets, they burn in the atmosphere and fall into the ocean.

On the other hand, when SpaceX completes its function, it directs the payload fairings, which separate like oyster shells, with cold gas thrusters and allows them to enter the atmosphere at the appropriate angle, just like a capsule.

Payload fairings, which have a very large surface area, are thus slowed down by friction. Then their parachutes open and they make a soft landing in the ocean.

SpaceX initially tried to catch the parachuted fairings before they touched the water with fast ships on which they mounted nets. It succeeded a few times, but it proved to be really difficult to catch the fairings in the air.

Saltwater is not at all merciful towards space equipment, but when the idea of catching it with a net did not work, the method of lifting it with a crane was started after the fairings fell into the sea. Fairings collected from seawater are refurbished before being reused.

SpaceX uses two ships to retrieve the payload fairings from the ocean. There were questions about whether this entire operation covered the costs, but if we look at the number of reused fairings, we can conclude that it was profitable.


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