This post is going to be sort of a personal account of covering this event, as it was quite an interesting few days. So, let’s get started.
As you may recall, Saturday morning brought the arrival of Falcon 9 booster B1059, after it launched the Cargo Dragon capsule for the CRS-19 mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX tends to bring landed boosters into port as early as possible, after any cruise ship traffic takes place. This arrival was no different. The usual suspects showed up to photograph and welcome the booster after it’s successful first mission. Julia Bergeron, Greg Scott, John Kraus, Ken Kremer, our own Matt Cutshall, myself, and several others were all getting our shots, and enjoying the up-close view offered by Jetty Park.
After seeing many booster returns, we have a pretty good idea of the steps and flow that take place once a booster is in port. Sometimes these steps takes place in a matter of a couple days, and sometimes up to a week.
Being that I had to work my day job Saturday and Sunday, I wasn’t sure how much of the recovery operations I’d get to see. But, as luck would have it, the only thing that had happened by Sunday night was removing the booster from the droneship, Of Course I Still Love You, and placing it on land.
That was good for me, because it meant I could spend Monday and Tuesday (my days off) hanging out at the port, watching to see if the landing legs would be raised, as is the plan for rapid reusability, or removed due to some problem that hasn’t been figured out by me or any of the other “port stalkers”. So, my plan was to get to bed by midnight (which is early for me) and head to the port by 8am to just wait and see. Then, this happened:
The droneship, Just Read The Instructions, which had previously been the landing platform for Falcon 9 launches out of Vandenberg, CA, was being upgraded in Louisiana, and Daryl Sausse was our local eyes, keeping tabs on the process. He doesn’t live right next to it, so his updates came as he had time to visit the location where the work was being done. But this day, JRTI was nowhere to be seen.
No one knew how long the droneship had been gone. So, the race was on the try to figure out where it was and, more importantly, where it was going. After some figuring, and searching for tugs that had a history of pulling the droneship, Julia Bergeron found tug Alice C scooting up the east coast of Florida, with a destination set as Cape Canaveral.
At this point, it was impossible to know if the tug was, in fact, pulling JRTI, or if it was coming to the Cape for some other reason. But with and ETA of 4am, I knew I had to get in bed ASAP in order to get to the port before the possible arrival.
Now, the 4am ETA was a little suspect, as the speed and distance of Alice C didn’t quite agree with that estimation. So, what you do in that situation is wake up stupid early and check MarineTraffic, an app that allows you to see the location of just about any vessel in the world, to see where the tug is.
The twitter account @SpaceXFleet helps with tracking the various SpaceX vessels, but was unable to get an update for a while, as the captains sometimes turn their AIS signal off. However, we knew it was getting somewhat close, so I left for the port at around 6am.
On my arrival, I saw that the booster (remember, that was the original reason I was going to get up early) had two of its legs raised. That was a good sign that even if Alice C wasn’t pulling JRTI, it was still going to be an interesting day!
Come to find out, I was way early, and workers would not show up for several hours. So, all I could do was keep checking Twitter for any leads, and refresh MarineTraffic to see if Alice C popped up on the radar.
Then, it finally happened. John Winkopp posted the first photos of what seemed to be Alice C pulling JRTI. The excitement was building.
By this time, Julia Bergeron had arrived, and we were discussing if we should stay where we were and wait for the booster recovery crews to raise B1059’s legs, or head over to Exploration Tower to see if we could get a good look from the viewing platform on the top floor. Curiosity got the best of us, and we relocated. We were rewarded with a faint view similar to that of John Winkopp, but more elevated.
It was obvious to us. That is the droneship, and it’s coming in!
Right about that time, I turned my camera back over toward the booster to find that, although obscured by tanker Orient Grace, the legs had been raised. We missed it!
In the approximately 30 minutes we were distracted, they had done the thing I was originally there to see. Ugh!
No big deal, though, because we were about to receive our second droneship. Any minute now. Right?
Wrong. We waited up there until chatter on the port radio indicated to us it wasn’t even happening until the next day. Thus is the life of a port stalker. Wait all day, and you might get nothing. That doesn’t mean it was a total waste. It’s always fun hanging with other space fans. And one of the added bonuses of being on the Exploration Tower is that there are always random people coming and going that sometimes don’t know anything about all the cool stuff going on in the port, and the Space Coast at large. It’s an opportunity to meet people and educate them from a great vantage point high above where it all happens. It’s something I get a kick out of, and I hope they take something away from it.
I had originally planned to make Tuesday a leisurely off-day, but I needed to be at the port early, once again, because I was not going to miss JRTI’s arrival.
I get to Port Canaveral pretty early again, just to make sure I was ready and waiting. And waiting, I did, but with good company. This time, we had the hope of booster B1059 being laid down on its transporter, which is always neat to see. Here is a time lapse from a previous recovery showing the massive rocket dangling from two cranes working in tandem to put it in the cradles atop the old Shuttle transporter.
Well, that didn’t happen, but while listening to the port radio, Jared (@baserunner0723) heard them give a time. At 2pm, Alice C would finally come into port and give us our first good look at Just Read The Instructions!
This story is getting a little long in the tooth, so I’ll try to keep it moving.
JRTI finally entered port, and everyone took great shots of her. We had our bird’s eye view from Exploration Tower and I took a time lapse of the arrival.
To end, I’ll include some of my still shots. It’s worth noting there were six truly massive thrusters sitting on the deck. No one is quite sure which droneship they’re for. Either they’re going to be installed on JRTI, or possibly, JRTI already has the new thrusters, and these are intended to go on the droneship, Of Course I Still Love You, already stationed here. Only time will tell.