1. What happened?
On Thursday morning (02/22/2018), SpaceX, which has had a great start of the year, successfully launched the Falcon 9. However, when the fairing (nose cone) came down, Elon Musk and his team were not able to retrieve it. Their plan was to have a boat, named Mr. Steven, and a large net welded on top of the boat. Unfortunately, the fairing landed a few hundred meters away. The fairing itself costs about $6 million USD to make.
2. Why is SpaceX trying to catch the rocket’s nose cone?
SpaceX’s mission is to be able to reuse rocket parts to bring the price down of launches. This will lower the cost of sending objects and people into space, which in return, will make it possible for people to live on other planets. Imagine trying to catch this object that is in freefall from 120km up in the sky.
Elon said on social media “It [fairing] has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher's mitt welded on, tries to catch it"
3. What does this mean for SpaceX?
SpaceX has been about trial, error, reassess, and success. We have seen some of their rockets blow up when testing and after correcting those mistakes, we have also seen the many success launches they’ve done.
You can see the fairing come off the rocket in the next video at about the 19:55-minute mark: