Earlier this year, Elon Musk informed us that SpaceX will be deploying a new rocket landing platform off Florida’s Space Coast, which will enter rotation with another drone ship stationed at Cape Canaveral. The purpose of Drone Ships is to permit recovery, refurbishment and reuse of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster stages.
The landing platform, named after the late author Iain M. Banks’s sci-fi novel “Look to Windward”, has been dubbed “A Shortfall of Gravitas” by Musk.
Elon Musk, being his usual self, sent out a vague Tweet to invoke excitement among SpaceX fans:
A Shortfall of Gravitas
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 9, 2019
A Shortfall of Gravitas has been designed to accommodate the Falcon Heavy rocket’s two side boosters, thus permitting dual ocean landings. By having a third drone ship, it ensures that a landing vessel is always on-hand for missions in Florida.
So far, there have been 12 successful landings of the accompanying rocket boosters, out of 18 attempts. All 11 rocket recovery attempts on land have been successful. On February 6th, two side boosters from the rocket’s maiden flight were successful in redocking on the Cape Canaveral landing pads after launch.
Certain missions could require the side boosters to land on ships downrange from the launch site; where the centre core would consume the entirety of the kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants required for landing, meaning it cannot return to earth for landing.
For the same reason, the centre core’s landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship didn’t go to plan in the Falcon Heavy’s maiden voyage; resulting in its crash in the sea. The rocket turned out to be short of TEA-TEB (triethylaluminium-triethylborane), which is required for the ignition of the core stage’s Merlin engines. As Elon Musk said, “(the) Fix is pretty obvious.”
The SpaceX program currently has two other drone ships, both also dedicated to Musk’s (favourite) author: “Just Read the Instructions” and “Of Course I still Love You,” stationed at the Port of Los Angeles and Port Canaveral respectively. The former is built for launches out of Vanderberg Air Force Base, California; and the latter is for missions in Florida.
SpaceX is expected to launch another 60 communication satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as part of its Starlink program around the 17th October. A Shortfall of Gravitas is likely the rocket that will be receiving the first stage on this occasion.
Like a lot of what Elon Musk’s says, it’s up for interpretation. Hopefully, we’ll soon see confirmation in the form of a longer tweet.