Here’s SpaceX’s new Drone Ship: “A Shortfall of Gravitas”

Here’s SpaceX’s new Drone Ship: “A Shortfall of Gravitas”

At this point, SpaceX could claim to be both a rocket company and also a maritime shipping company.  The company owns a fleet of drone ships for the purposes of providing their rockets with a safe place to retrograde land in the ocean without having to splash down. In the past, they actually had additional ships for fairing catching, Dragon Capsule recovery, and other support efforts.  But now, the company welcomed its newest drone landing ship with an announcement by Elon Musk on Twitter.  Welcome to the SpaceX: A Shortfall of Gravitas.

Technically known as an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), the A Shortfall of Gravitas will join two other active ASDSes (Just Read the Instructions (II) and Of Course I Still Love You) as well as a retired platform that was also named Just Read the Instructions.

Announcement of the A Shortfall of Gravitas from Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO.

The original Just Read the Instructions launched in 2014 and unfortunately only had two failed landing attempts before it was retired from service.  Its successor, as well as Of Course I Still Love You picked up the slack on the east coast (Port Canaveral) and west coast (Port of Long Beach) respectively.  A Shortfall of Gravitas will be joining Just Read the Instructions to support the company’s operations on the east coast.

Originally announced in 2018, A Shortfall of Gravitas was supposed to launch in mid-2019. However, it was delayed a bit before finally being completed this month.  It is actually an upgrade from its siblings in that it won’t require a tug to reach the rocket’s landing area. 

NASASpaceflight video on recovering rockets from the ASDS
Credit – NASASpaceflight YouTube Channel

It will have a lot more to live up to though – after some original hiccups due to technical difficulties both other drone ships have racked up an impressive number of successful landings, with 39 successes and 6 failures for Of Course I Still Love You and 17 successes and only 1 failure for the Just Read the Instructions (II).  In fact, the last 14 attempts at remote landing on an ASDS were successful, including three in June 2021.

A Shortfall of Gravitas has yet to build up such a track record, but the underlying engineering should be the same.  And despite the ships differing and somewhat whimsical names – they all have another underlying connection as well.  They are all named after sentient starships in Iain M. Bank’s Culture series of sci-fi novels. The ship A Shortfall of Gravitas is named after is actually called Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall, and comes from the book Look to Windward.  Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions on the other hand come from a book called The Player of Games.  

UT Video discussing the importance or reusing rockets.

Given Mr. Musk’s well known aversion to sentient AI, the ASDSes won’t likely take on their namesake’s personalities any time soon, as in the novels themselves the ships are depicted as being very interesting.  But they don’t need to have the same level of sentience to perform their current job well.  Let’s hope that A Shortfall of Gravitas will live up to its predecessor’s successful records.

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Lead Image:
A Shortfall of Gravitas is officially launched as SpaceX’s newest Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.
Credit – SpaceX

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