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SpaceX will try to catch its astronaut-bearing 'Crew Dragon' capsules in giant nets as they return from orbit, Elon Musk has suggested.
The US aerospace firm has already been trying to use the same principle to catch the protective nosecones of rockets which are jettisoned after launch.
Mr - Musk - Nosecone - £4 - ?
According to Mr Musk, each nosecone costs around £4.6 million ($6 million) — and keeping them out of corrosive seawater is the first step to being able to reuse them.
Catching the crew capsules, similarly, could save money by allowing them to be more easily restored for multiple flights.
Nets - Boats - Operation - ? - Chief
The nets are suspended above specially-equipped boats, of which there are presently two in operation — 'Ms Chief' and 'Ms Tree' (formerly 'Mr Steven').
Both vessels have managed to catch the falling rocket parts on a number of occasions — but the majority have landed in the ocean instead.
SpaceX - Success - Rate - Manoeuvre - Crewed
SpaceX will likely want to improve its success rate, however, before it attempts to try the same manoeuvre to land a crewed spacecraft.
'I think it would be quite cool to use the boats that we are using to catch the fairing, once that is really well-established, to catch Dragon as it's coming in from orbit,' Mr Musk said during a press conference on January 19, reported Space.com.
Constraints - Water - Landing
'And then that would alleviate some of the constraints around a water landing.'
However, Mr Musk added, 'this requires ongoing discussions with NASA.'
US - Space - Agency - Plans - SpaceX
The US space agency will have to sign off on any such plans as SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon capsules under contracts with NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
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