I read that SpaceX is starting to work on fairings reusability. I couldn't find any information, so I would like to know more about them. In particular, I remember a quote from Musk saying that fairings cost up to several millions of dollars.

How much does a fairing system cost? How can they be recovered? Would they float on water or would they need floatation devices?


2 Answers 2


Apparently this was considered by SpaceX in Q1 2015, to work around a production bottleneck. Due to delays in 2015 after the June 2015 loss of CRS-7 that bottleneck may not have occurred. As of CRS-8 (1 year later) we haven't seen a recovery attempt but it's still something SpaceX wants to do.

This slide is from an internal SpaceX presentation:

Fairing recovery: the fairings are passively stable during reentry, presenting their outside surface to the airstream. After reentry, each fairing half deploys a parafoil and is picked up mid-air by a helicopter.

SpaceX note that by the the end of 2015, fairing production will not be able to keep up with desired fairing launch frequency.

Incremental improvements in production are occurring to resolve this, but a redesign is needed to drastically improve fairing production.

This will be accomplished by decreasing the number of piece parts, reducing the number of structural bonds, and component redesigns with production hours in mind.

Falcon heavy launches will have higher loads, environments, and thermal. Many fairing components will require redesign to meet these requirements. The new fairing will be designed from the ground up to meet these requirements.

The new fairing will be designed from the beginning with reusability in mind. As reentry load cases mature, parts will be designed to these loads. Also, an experimental cold gas ACS system is being added to the current fairing and fairing 2.0 will include a more production ready system.

Assuming the ACS system is successful in making the fairing survive reentry, a parachute system will be added to each fairing half as well - with helicopter recovery shown in slide.


The fairings cost several million dollars.

During the post launch briefing of CRS-8, Elon Musk mentioned that:

A few more things we want to do... we want to try to bring back the fairing - the big nose come back. That will certainly help because each of those cost several millions.

Midair helicopter capture would be tricky. Is there such a system currently in use for any use case? Only thing I could find with a quick search is this system developed in the 70s.

Correcting myself. There is a system developed by NASA for space probe recovery.

Also came across a youtube video which is obviously unofficial and must be based on the reddit post mentioned in the reply by Hobbes.

One thing I disagree with that picture is that the parachute has to be parafoil rather than round parachute. Capturing something coming down straight is quite difficult and dangerous. It has to be under parafoil with good forward speed so the helicopter can come up from behind, match the glide and then capture with more ease.

edit: Shotwell mentioned fairing recovery on 2/18/2017:

Though confirming that the Falcon upper stage would not be reused, Shotwell was optimistic about a redesign for reuse of the payload fairing.

“We’re working on that,” she said. “It’s such a shame. This hardware is so expensive, you want to save everything.”

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Midair capture (by airplane rather than helicopter) was routinely used for spy satellite film canisters. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Apr 11, 2016 at 17:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Hobbes True, but a spy satellite film canister weights a LOT less than a fairing, and can probably take more abuse. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Feb 2, 2017 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ What is the "70th"? $\endgroup$
    – Rob Rose
    Feb 18, 2018 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, grammar error. 70s. $\endgroup$
    – hshib
    Feb 19, 2018 at 14:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.