Elon Musk states that SpaceX is still building a third drone ship

Tested on October 9, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted "A Shortfall of Gravitas" – the name of a third drone ship that was settled a year and a half ago – and confirmed that plans are still underway to build a third rocket recovery.

This is the first update on SpaceX's latest drone ship in more than a year and comes just months after the Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) drone ship – formerly stationed in California – was sent east through the Panama Canal. News that A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG) is still in the works raises the questions: what is the holdup and what role (s) will the new drone ship play in SpaceX's rocket recovery fleet?

Back in July 201[ads1]8 and just shy of half a year after ASOG's development was revealed, CEO Elon Musk indicated that the drone ship could be ready and ready for recovery operations as early as "next summer", or Q3 2019. Now two weeks to Q4 2019, this can be interpreted in several ways, with the most likely explanation that SpaceX's chosen marine contractor is running according to plan while building the new drone ship.

After passing through the Panama Canal, JRTI set east, just to stop in Morgan City, Louisiana for what believed to be maintenance and possible upgrades.

As such, it is no longer clear whether SpaceX actually has a need for ASOG, at least as described last year. If SpaceX moves JRTI eastward for an undetermined future, OCISLY and JRTI could easily support the Falcon 9 launch rates needed for Starlink and dual Falcon Heavy side booster recovery, although Falcon Heavy is not scheduled to fly again until late 2020. [19659002] This leaves one obvious alternative left to explain ASOG's continued existence and delayed debut: SpaceX may have paused work for many different reasons and changed ASOG's design to account for a new role in the recovery fleet. The new role is likely to center around the extremely rapid progress SpaceX is making with Starship as it pursues a series of ambitious flight tests that can begin before the end of 2019.

Starship is heading toward orbit around the top of a Super Heavy booster. (SpaceX)

Strangely enough, a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) from the August Coast Starship in August 2019 revealed that SpaceXs originally plans to land all Super Heavy boosters on a drone ship stationed a few miles off the Florida coast. Starship may also require landing drone ships in the early stages, at least until SpaceX is able to complete the environmental review and licensing process required before it can begin landing Starship / Super Heavy on Pad 39A and Landing Zones 1 and 2. [19659002] So far we have to wait and see where the drone ship JRTI is looking for the Louisiana Intermediate and hopefully find out if ASOG is a drone ship copy or something else entirely.

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