Ms. Chief arriving at Port Canaveral – Kyle Montgomery
Ms. Chief is a fast, highly maneuverable vessel that was chartered by SpaceX from 2019 until 2021 in support of the fairing recovery program. The ship was configured with a large net to catch payload fairings. As of April 2021, SpaceX is no longer attempting to catch payload fairings and Ms. Chief has been retired from SpaceX operations and operates elsewhere in the maritime industry.
Ms. Chief was constructed near identically to twin ship Ms. Tree. Both ships were originally built as fast crew/supply vessels, serving the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. The name Ms. Chief is a pun of the word ‘Mischief’.
SpaceX has been developing the fairing recovery program since 2016. In 2017, SpaceX chartered Ms. Tree and installed a large net onto the vessel. Ms. Tree would then try to position herself underneath a falling fairing half and catch it in the net before it hit the water. It took until mid-2019 for the program to yield a successful catch. Following this success, in August 2019 SpaceX chartered Ms. Chief – a ship that was near identical to Ms. Tree.
During fairing catch operations, two recovery ships were required to be able to catch both halves because each half descended at the same time in different locations. Prior to Ms. Chief, Ms. Tree would attempt to catch one fairing half and then go hunting for the other, which would hopefully be floating on the ocean surface nearby.
Ms. Chief Arm Installation – Greg Scott
Ms. Chief had a difficult introduction to mission operations. During her debut mission in November 2019, the vessel encountered heavy seas and was forced to abandon the recovery attempt because engineers were concerned about the structural integrity of the net system. On her first full mission – JCSAT-18 – the vessel suffered some minor damage to her net structure and was taken out of service for a few weeks whilst repairs were made.
Ms. Chief returns from a mission with a fairing recovered from the water (Under blue tarp) – Kyle Montgomery
Ms. Chief made numerous attempts at catching a fairing half. The ship caught a fairing half for the first time during the ANASIS-II mission on July 20th, 2020. The vessel made two confirmed successful catches during its period with SpaceX.
Inconsistency and Retirement
Throughout 2020, SpaceX was not always attempting to catch the fairing half and instead opting to go straight for wet recovery, a process where the fairing is allowed to gracefully land on the ocean surface and is then lifted onto the recovery ship. This method often proved more reliable and less high-risk than catch attempts – which occasionally ended with significant damage to fairings and the catcher ships.
With a lack of catching reliability, SpaceX decided to abandon the catching program and opted to conduct wet recovery by default. Megan and Shannon took on the responsibility of fairing recovery in March 2021 and Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief were slowly de-rigged of all SpaceX equipment – a process that itself took well over a month to complete. SpaceX made significant upgrades to both ships, including the catching structure, computer systems, communications, and rigging
A new fairing recovery ship, Shelia Bordelon, was contracted in March 2021 to take on the sole responsibility of fairing recovery for an interim period before the program reached its current evolution with dual-purpose support vessels Bob and Doug.
Ms. Chief completed final decommissioning work and departed from Port Canaveral, retiring from SpaceX operations, on April 12th, 2021. The crew of the vessel conducted a ceremonial water salute to spectators during the final departure.
Farewell water salute spin from Ms. Chief as SpaceX ends the use of fairing catchers (will now scoop the fairings from the surface of the Atlantic via soft touchdowns).— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) April 12, 2021
Via NSF Fleetcam: https://t.co/lzdAJXnIy6 https://t.co/fZBvnQJZfU pic.twitter.com/XkQmbIrG6u
Owner: SEACOR Marine
Year Built: 2014
Joined SpaceX Fleet: 2019
Joined SpaceX Fleet: 2021
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Fast, maneuverable vessel that was previously modified to catch fairing halves. Retired in 2021. Read more…
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