I ran into a short story on Teslarati yesterday, my first stop for SpaceX news. It's one that isn't important and isn't long, but I thought it was rather cool.
Regular readers know that SpaceX has a couple of recovery drones that Falcon 9 first stages land on. These are known as OCISLY and JRTI; more formally as Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read The Instructions. The story broke earlier in the week that after a busy week, with two launches three days apart, OCISLY returned to port first, booster B1067 was removed and work started to prepare her to traverse the Panama Canal and go to Long Beach, California in preparation for some polar orbit launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base.
The story yesterday said OCISLY was enroute to the Bahamas where the drone barge will be loaded onto a transport ship called Mighty Servant 1 to be carried through the canal and north to Long Beach.
Mighty Servant 1 (MS1) carrying (I believe they said) an offshore oil platform.
Formerly stationed in California, drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) was transported from Port of Los Angeles to Port Canaveral, inspected, and substantially upgraded between August 2019 and May 2020. SpaceX relocated the vessel to give its East Coast fleet a redundant pair of drone ships and enable a launch cadence boost otherwise unachievable. That decision proved smart and SpaceX has made excellent use of both drone ships, completing an incredible 36 orbital Falcon 9 launches, 36 landing attempts, and 35 successful booster recoveries in the 12 months since JRTI entered service alongside OCISLY on the East Coast.
Now, though, SpaceX once again needs a drone ship on the West Coast to support a significant number of polar Starlink launches and missions for US government customers after completing just two launches out of Vandenberg Air/Space Force Base (VAFB) in the last 24 months. Targeting an average cadence of one VAFB launch per month, the first phase of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation – ~4400 satellites – will require approximately two dozen dedicated Falcon 9 launches to fill out three ‘shells’ of polar-orbiting spacecraft.
MS1 is a partially submersible heavy-lift ship. It will submerge part of the deck, one or the other (or both) MS1 and OCISLY will position the drone barge and MS1 will then float to the carrying position.
More details in this Twitter thread from Teslarati author Eric Ralph.
Why? Final words to Eric Ralph.
Why isn’t entirely clear but using a transporter like Mighty Servant 1 – while expensive – could expedite the journey by ~30%, make squeezing a ~53-meter-wide barge through a 55-meter-wide canal less anxiety-provoking, and ultimately allow SpaceX to stick to a schedule that would see it kick off West Coast Starlink launches this July.