SpaceX has two new support ships and they are like swiss army knives of boats, capable of doing what SpaceX previously would do with three different boats. Both boats were refit for their SpaceX work in Port Houma in Louisiana. Their names are Bob and Doug, after the two astronauts that flew DM-2, SpaceX’s first crewed mission. Bob still needs more work before it is ready and is currently in Port Fourchon, unfortunately it was on the path of Hurricane Ida, so that might delay its possible deployment. Doug on the other hand just arrived at Port Canaveral after skimming the top of Ida on its way through the Gulf.
SpaceX’s droneships are normally towed out to the landing site by a contracted tug where they are they released prior to launch and will maintain their position until the booster has landed, at which point the tug will reconnect and bring the droneship back to port. This saves on fuel for the droneship and decreases wear and tear on their engines. ASOG should be able to operate tugless, but that is yet to be seen in. Bob and Doug have winches that allow them to double as tugs and bring the droneship to and from the landing site like a standard tug would.
The droneships are supported by a crew of engineers and technicians, both to operate the droneship and to safe and secure the booster. After booster has landed and safed technicians will board the droneship to finish securing the booster. The support ship is also often used to transfer crew to the droneship prior to it entering port so workers can berth the droneship, but sometimes this job is done by one of the local port tugs. There aren’t many requirements to be a support ship, just being able to transfer crew, so Bob and Doug should be able to serve as support ships.
SpaceX’s road to fairing recovery has been a windy one, they began with just soft landing them and pulling them onto boats with simple cranes and then for awhile Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief were attempting to catch them in large nets. Later catching fairing was abandoned with Tree and Chief leaving the SpaceX fleet. SpaceX tested the waters with using ships with heave compensated cranes, first with a boat called Shelia Bordelon, then Hos Briarwood. They had good success with Shelia and Hos, now with Bob and Doug who have similar cranes they will continue to recover fairings from the water.
What a Doug Mission Might Look Like
A mission with Doug performing all of the above duties could go like this. It begins with the Doug hooking up to the droneship and departing the port with the help of local port tugs who will help Doug have more control of the droneship until they clear the Jetty at which point the local tugs will release the droneship and Doug will continue to the landing location. Once at the landing zone Doug will wait with the droneship until a few hours before launch when it will release the droneship and Doug will head farther out to be ready to recover the fairings. After launch, the booster will land on the droneship and the fairing will splash down near Doug. Workers will remotely safe the booster and attach the octagrabber while another set of workers is fishing the fairings out of the water. With the fairings secured Doug will head back to the droneship at top speed. Once Doug is back to the droneship any crew they might need to transfer to the barge will do so and Doug will hook up to tow the droneship back to port with a secured booster. once almost back to port a local tug will transfer crew to the barge(as Doug is busy towing) and the droneship will be brought into port and berth with the assistance of local tugs. Doug will then dock and use its crane to lift the fairing onto trucks on the dock.
A Possible Goodbye to GO Quest
One sad thing about Doug’s arrival is it might mean we have to say goodbye to the oldest member of the SpaceX fleet, GO Quest has been with SpaceX for years serving as a droneship support vessel, but Bob and Doug just might take GO Quest’s job. Because the east coast has two droneship Quest’s job is safe for the short term because only Doug is ready and at Port Canaveral, but if Bob is also sent to Canaveral then a third support ship would be redundant and, and we will likely say goodbye to GO Quest at that time.