Meet SpaceX’s newest rocket-catching droneship: A Shortfall of Gravitas

SpaceX will use new droneship for CRS-23 launch from Kennedy Space Center

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX will try out A Shortfall of Gravitas, its new automated droneship, for its next Falcon 9 rocket launch from Florida sending supplies to the space station.

The rocket booster will land on the new and improved ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean about eight minutes after liftoff.

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“I’m really excited to see this vehicle come online and we really needed it, we needed a third vehicle to support the high launch cadence that we’re seeing at SpaceX right now,” SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management Sarah Walker said ahead of the cargo resupply launch planned for this weekend.

The Space Coast is now home to two of SpaceX’s vessels dedicated to rocket-booster landings at sea, A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG) and Just Read the Instructions. The company’s third droneship, Of Course I Still Love You, will remain on the West Coast for California launches.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared some aerial video of the new ship at sea in July. Like the two other droneships in its fleet, the new SpaceX vessel was named to honor the late science fiction writer Iain M. Banks. It’s a reference to the spaceship featured in his “Culture” novels, according to Space.com.

The new ship does not require the assistance of a tug boat to make it out into the Atlantic Ocean.

“So it was designed and built to travel out to sea, find its position, receive the rocket and then actually secure the rocket to the ship all robotically,” Walker said.

A robot called the Octograbber then secures the rocket booster’s four landing legs to the vessel.

The ship then travels back to Port Canaveral where the booster will be offloaded, refurbished and launch again on another mission.

The process is “completely autonomously, which is a huge upgrade,” Walker said.

Rocket and Dragon spacecraft reuse is a huge part of SpaceX’s business model.

The Falcon 9 booster launching SpaceX’s 23rd resupply mission has already launched four other times and the Dragon spaceship will be making its second visit to the space station.

“Refurbishment is very important to the company, you know, we think it’s a critical breakthrough in technology to be able to re-fly our rockets and our spacecraft,” Walker said.


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