The stars continue to align for SpaceX as the company has been breaking bounds across the board.
In the latest milestone for Elon Musk’s space company, it recently completed the launch - and landing - for its dragon heavy cargo ship.
Late last month, SpaceX launched its robotic Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station. The launch marked SpaceX’s 21st of the year, and it was another impressive milestone for the space company. It included the launch of a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket from the Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. A little over 7 minutes following liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to the Earth, landing smoothly on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The drone ship that collected the Falcon 9’s returned part has been dubbed “A Shortfall of Gravitas” by SpaceX. It is the newest of three drone ships in the company’s sprawling fleet of recovery vessels that receive the falling parts of boosters and returns them to port for fixing and additional use. It joins “Of Course I Still Love You,” which SpaceX moved to the West Coast - as well as “Just Read the Instructions” - a drone ship that handles launch operations in the East Coast.
SpaceX also packed the Dragon with over 4,888 pounds of scientific experimentation tools, food supplies, and hardware. These include a robotic arm that will be tested at the International Space Station.
A Revolutionary New Drone Ship
“A Shortfall of Gravitas” is an incredible feat of engineering. Musk himself had revealed it back in July, announcing that the boat is entirely automated. This means that it won’t need a tug boat to get it out into the Atlantic Ocean. The ship had been earmarked to replace “Of Course I Still Love You,” and work closely with the Falcon 9, which continues to send Starlink satellites into space.
The primary benefit of this drone ship is that it is entirely autonomous. It doesn’t need any guidance to get to the ocean and back, and it still operates efficiently to handle returned parts of the Falcon 9 spaceship. It isn’t quite clear whether the drone ship can work with other ships from SpaceX. But, given the importance of the Falcon 9 ship to the company, there will be a lot of work for “A Shortfall of Gravitas” to handle in the future.
Crews have successfully offloaded the spaceship from the drone ship, and they will be looking to inspect it to see defects before setting it up to fly once more. “A Shortfall of Gravitas” will most likely split recovery duties with “Just Read the Instructions” as SpaceX prepares to handle more launches before the year winds down. The company had stopped launches for two months as it was working on upgrading its Starlink satellites. Now that this is over, launches are expected to begin in earnest.
Ready for Inspiration 4
According to reports, SpaceX is looking to launch at least 40 rockets this year - this will be a significant increase from the 26 rockets launched last year. But repair work on the satellites and a potential shortage of liquid oxygen might have jeopardized that objective. Nevertheless, there is optimism that it would be able to break last year’s record and handle up to 30 launches in 2021.
The next launch for SpaceX is expected to be the Inspiration 4 mission. The mission is quite important, as it will be a crewed one - of which none of the crew members are actually astronauts.
Inspiration 4 is a multi-million dollar fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Jared Isaacman, a billionaire businessman, had booked space on the Crew Dragon capsule last year, picking three seats for three normal people to ride into space with him. Inspiration 4 is expected to be the first entirely private space mission.
The Inspiration 4 crew is expected to launch on Wednesday night on the Falcon 9 rocket, nestled inside a Crew Dragon capsule. The mission will reach about 80 miles higher than the International Space Station, allowing the participants to view the Earth from way up in space.
From there, the crew will be able to re-enter the Earth after three days and splash down on the Atlantic Ocean.