CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. SpaceX’s newest drone ship, Lack of Gravity (ASOG), arrived in port on Tuesday (Aug 31) with the first catch attached to the deck.
The launch vehicle, dubbed B1061 by SpaceX, had launched just two days earlier and delivered the Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA.
This massive ship is the latest in SpaceX’s trio of drones, which are designed to be used as floating landing platforms for the company’s rockets. He joins Just Read the Instructions to serve as a rescue vessel for SpaceX’s East Coast launch operations, while Sure I Still Love You’s most prolific ship has moved to the West Coast.
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The drone ship returns
To witness ASOG’s first triumphant return to port, I climbed into a helicopter and took off over the waterway.
The huge ship reached the port entrance at around 7 a.m. on Tuesday, patiently awaiting escort tugs to help bring it to SpaceX’s docks.
It only took my pilot a few minutes to get to the place where the ASOG and its cargo were hanging. We flew around the massive booster, admiring it from all sides. It was my first helicopter flight and I was very nervous, but the flight was so smooth. In addition, it was incredibly interesting to watch the launch vehicle from such a height.
It is sometimes difficult to get an idea of scale, but seeing both the drone ship and the booster next to its tiny tugboat (and other vessels in the area) really highlighted how big the ASOG is.
B1061, which has flown four times so far, was severely scorched and covered in soot after multiple flights to and from space. To date, the rocket has three different Dragon spacecraft, a broadband satellite for Sirius XM, and is the first launch vehicle to land on all three SpaceX unmanned spacecraft.
Its most recent launch, which took off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:14 a.m. on August 29, delivered the Dragon cargo spacecraft to the ISS. The robotic delivery vessel was packed with 4,800 lb (2,177 kg) research and crew supplies.
A brief history of ASOG
In recent years, SpaceX has increased its launch frequency. Thus, there is a need for more ships to support the corresponding recovery efforts. SpaceX has two options for landing its rockets: on a floating platform at sea or on a designated landing pad.
More fuel is required to return to the launch pad, so this is not always possible, especially if the Falcon 9 is carrying a huge payload. Therefore, as a rule, the company relies on its drones to do most of the work. Ships are mobile and require less fuel on the rocket.
To that end, SpaceX has built two drone ships that will rebuild their first stage boosters so they can fly multiple times. As the company’s launch frequency increased, the need for another ship became apparent.
The founder and CEO of the company, Elon Musk, first teased the idea of a third unmanned spacecraft back in 2018. It took several years, but the long-awaited ship first left for Port Canaveral in July.
Built in Fourchon, Louisiana, the ship features a new design and some improvements over the two older ships. One of the major improvements is that ASOG is now completely autonomous. (This means that the drone can independently navigate to and from the recovery zone.)
Like the other two ships, the ASOG was named after the late science fiction writer Ian M. Banks. All three SpaceX reference drone ships are featured in Banks’ Culture series.
Currently, the two veteran ships rely on tugs to help them navigate to specific recovery zones each time they launch. Port Canaveral regulations state that ASOG still needs a tug to escort it through the port; however, in future missions, he will be able to go to sea.
What happens next
As soon as the crews unload the booster from the ASOG, the booster will be tested and, if everything is in order, it will fly again in the future.
ASOG will share recovery responsibilities from Just Read Instructions as SpaceX prepares for launches before the end of the year. The company had a two-month lull in launches this summer as it worked to upgrade its own Starlink internet satellites.
SpaceX aims to launch at least 40 rockets in 2021, significantly more than a record 26 in 2020, satellite work and potential shortages of liquid oxygen may have thwarted that goal, but we can see SpaceX complete as many as 30 launches in a year. which will be a new record. That is if everything goes according to plan.
The Sunday morning flight left the company before age 21 this year, and some have remained on the manifesto.
SpaceX’s next launch will be Inspiration 4. This mission, scheduled no earlier than September 15th, will be SpaceX’s first mission entirely dedicated to private citizens.
Launched with Pad 39A, the flight was bought by billionaire Jared Issakman, founder of Shift4payment. He will be joined by Hayley Arsenault, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski.
The crew will strap onto the Crew Dragon spacecraft and orbit the Earth for three days as part of a million-dollar mission for St. Jude.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.