SpaceX's rocket fairing catcher has a new name; here's why

A Q&A with the unofficial SpaceX fleet tracker

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

SpaceX's Mr. Steven is now called Go Ms. Tree, according to the Port Authority. (Image: Port Authority/ Twitter)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - SpaceX's boat with a giant net designed to catch the company's rocket nose cones has been renamed and its name is a bit of mystery.

The vessel formerly known as Mr. Steven is now called Ms. Tree, according to maritime tracking and the Canaveral Port Authority.

Ms. Tree is currently docked at Port Canaveral ahead of a Falcon Heavy launch next week with payloads for NASA, NOAA and the Department of Defense.

"SpaceX's Mr. Steven sports a new name - GO Ms. Tree - at its berth on the Port's north side," the Port Authority tweeted Thursday. "Equipped with four long arms and a large net, the vessel is a platform for recovering Falcon 9 payload fairings as they descend by parachute to the ocean."

The giant net on the boat was designed to catch the rocket's fairings, or nose cone, where the payloads are encased. After the fairings fall away, the net will catch the hardware to be reflown. A pair of fairings cost about $6 million and are another way SpaceX can reduce the cost of each launch by recovering and reusing rocket hardware.

SpaceX hasn't successfully used Ms. Tree, formally Mr. Steven, to catch rocket fairings from Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy but each attempt seems to be getting closer, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously said.

The commercial space company led by Musk has about 10 ships, including droneships to land rocket boosters on, to tow the droneships in and to recover its astronaut-rated spacecraft Crew Dragon.

News 6 WKMG asked unofficial SpaceX fleet tracker Gavin Cornwell about the boat's name change and why he started tracking the SpaceX fleet to begin with. Below is the exchange, edited for clarity:

WKMG: How did you first discover Mr. Steven had a name change? Were you confused at first or you knew right away it was the same ship, different name?

Cornwell: I first noticed in the hour after the name change was first reported by online (maritime) tracking services. I spend far too much time looking at tracking services so constantly know where each SpaceX ship is moored on a map. I spotted the new name almost instantly and started digging for information. 

WKMG: What are your theories behind the name change?

Cornwell: My theory is that the ship has been sold to Guice Offshore. Nothing is confirmed yet because the paperwork doesn't seem to have been pushed through.

Mr. Steven is/was owned by Sea-Tran Marine. Guice Offshore then operated the vessel for SpaceX. Guice Offshore owns and operate nine vessels, three of which are used by SpaceX (Searcher, Navigator, and Quest). Sea-Tran Marine has been in financial difficulties since late last year, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Since then there has been little news on the company's situation. Here's the original Daily Iberian article that reported the bankruptcy.

I noted, in a photo taken by Tom McCool on June 12, that Mr. Steven's name had been removed from the side of the ship. Then, on June 13, the ship started to report its name on tracking services as 'GO Ms. Tree.'

Guice Offshore operates a naming scheme whereas all their ships start with 'GO', representing the company name of Guice Offshore. The rename of the ship to have 'GO' at the front strongly implies that the ship has been sold to GO by Sea-Tran Marine.

WKMG: Did we ever learn the meaning behind Mr. Steven’s namesake?

Cornwell: Yes! The name Mr. Steven is nothing to do with SpaceX and wasn't picked by them. Mr. Steven is named after Steven Miguez, father of the SeaTran Marine CEO Blake Miguez. If Guice Offshore really did buy the ship then the name change is very sensible. I don't think that anybody would keep a multimillion-dollar purchase named after the former owner.
 
WKMG: Ms. Tree has never successfully caught any fairings yet. Do you think SpaceX is getting close?

Cornwell: Not yet! I think they are making progress but catching fairings will always be inherently difficult because the fairing is at the mercy of the wind. A big gust the final moments could push the fairing back and make it miss the net, even if everything else was perfect.

GO Ms. Tree is estimated to cost SpaceX up to $3 million a year. With each fairing half costing between $2 million to $3 million each, the ship could pay for itself with one catch a year, not including other expenses like refurbishment. SpaceX seems to still be committed to the method, despite now also sending out support ships to haul the fairings out of the water. Two ships: GO Searcher and GO Navigator pulled the fairing out of the water during the ArabSat-6A mission and intend to reuse them later this year, despite their brief swim.

WKMG: How did you get started tracking the SpaceX Fleet? 

Cornwell: I launched the Twitter account in June 2018 and the website in January 2019. I've always had a thing for logistics and planning. I started taking an interest in what SpaceX was doing in late 2017.

Whilst I was watching the Falcon Heavy Demo mission in February 2018, as the center core missed the droneship, I started to wonder "How did that drone-ship get to where it was supposed to be, there must be some big logistics at play here." This mindset was further reenforced the following month when Mr. Steven made her first attempt at catching a fairing. I started looking online for answers and had to do a lot of digging. A few months down the line I had the thought of "Hey, maybe others would be interested in this too." So I created the Twitter account, and it proved popular. Elon Musk retweeted me (now deleted) back in December 2018, which massively helped growth.

I launched the website because although Twitter is a great platform, information gets quickly lost down the drain. Multiple people a day would be asking the same questions like "What is GO Searcher? Have they caught a fairing yet?" and so on. I created the website as an easy place to put all the information that was in my head, that I could then point people towards. It also presented a great opportunity to showcase some of the amazing photos that have been taken by local photographers.

WKMG:  Anything else you’d like people to know about Ms. Tree or tracking the SpaceX fleet?

Cornwell: Don't think so! Just hoping GO Ms. Tree manages to pull off the catch some day.

Learn more about the boats aiding SpaceX by following Cornwell on Twitter @SpaceXFleet and read more about fairing recovery here at spacexfleet.com.

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