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Ms. Tree


Ms. Tree catches a fairing half – SpaceX

Ms. Tree (Previously named Mr. Steven) is a fast, highly maneuverable vessel that was chartered by SpaceX from 2017 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. Tree has been retired from SpaceX operations and operates elsewhere in the maritime industry. The name ‘Ms. Tree’ is a pun of the word ‘Mystery’. 

Ms. Tree was originally built as a fast crew/supply vessel, serving the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. In late 2017, the vessel was chartered by SpaceX as they continued the development of the fairing recovery program. Ms. Tree was assigned to Pacific Ocean operations and based at the Port of Los Angeles, California.

Ms. Tree’s mission debut with original net – SpaceX

Catch Time

Ms. Tree’s first catch attempt was made during the PAZ mission on February 22nd, 2018. The attempt was unsuccessful, with the ship missing by a few hundred meters. Elon Musk commented that equipping a larger parafoil to the fairing could slow it down enough to allow Ms. Tree to catch it.
Ms. Tree had a second opportunity on March 30th, 2018, during the Iridium-5 mission. Unfortunately, the fairing parafoil malfunctioned before the attempt causing the fairing to impact the ocean at high speed.
On the following mission, Ms. Tree reportedly missed the fairing half by about 50 meters but later collected it from the water as the fairing can float. This mission was the first time that SpaceX managed to retrieve both fairing halves from the ocean in an intact state.
In May 2018, after little success with catching a fairing half, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX would drastically increase the size of Ms. Tree’s net. After two days of work, SpaceX technicians had dismantled the old net and erected a new one that was four times larger, totaling an estimated 3,600 square meters.

Installation of new arms and net – Pauline Acalin

Ms. Tree, with her new net, persevered throughout the rest of 2018 but was unable to catch a fairing half during a mission. SpaceX conducted numerous drop tests in an attempt to fine-tune the process. During these tests, a helicopter would lift a fairing to 10,00ft before dropping it for Ms. Tree to chase. These tests were reportedly not successful either.

With a lack of upcoming missions launching over the Pacific Ocean after 2018, SpaceX decided to move Ms. Tree to the Atlantic Ocean. The ship made the move in February 2019 and began operating out of Port Canaveral, Florida.

Ms. Tree’s first encounter with the Atlantic Ocean proved to be treacherous. Whilst traveling offshore for the PSN-6 mission, Ms. Tree encountered some very bad weather where waves managed tear off two of the four arms that held up the net. The catch attempt was abandoned and the ship returned to Port Canaveral for repairs.

The remains of Ms. Tree’s arm structure being removed after the PSN-6 mission – Ken Kremer

Recovery Success

It was nearly three months before Ms. Tree’s new net was fabricated and installed. The ship returned to service June 2019 where she finally made her first successful catch of a payload fairing half during the STP-2 mission.

First Successful Catch: Ms. Tree’s first successful catch was on June 25th, 2019, during the STP-2 mission. This was Ms. Tree’s seventh attempt. The offshore weather was noted as being optimal and the catch attempt happened a record 1350 km downrange from the launchpad.

Ms. Tree was again successful during the AMOS-17 mission on August 7th, 2019. The program later saw further success, but not consistently. SpaceX chartered a second fairing catcher vessel, Ms. Chief, in August 2019 to allow them to catch both fairing halves during a single mission.

Ms. Tree made seven 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. Tree was officially retired from SpaceX recovery operations on April 6th, 2021. The crew of the vessel conducted a ceremonial water salute to spectators as they departed Port Canaveral for the very last time.

Ms. Tree retires from SpaceX operations with a ceremonial water salute – NASASpaceflight

Vital Statistics

Owner: SEACOR Marine

Year Built: 2014

IMO: 9744465

Length: 62.5m

Width: 10.4m

Joined SpaceX Fleet: 2017

Retired from SpaceX Fleet: 2021

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