GO Ms. Chief – often shortened to Ms. Chief – is one of two fairing catcher recovery ships that were chartered by SpaceX until April 2021. SpaceX is no longer attempting to catch payload fairings and Ms. Chief has been retired from SpaceX operations.
Ms. Chief was constructed near identically to twin Ms. Tree. Both ships are fast, highly maneuverable vessels that were originally built for oil rig crew transport in the Gulf of Mexico. The name ‘Ms. Chief’ is a pun of the word ‘Mischief’.
Owner: SEACOR Marine
Operator: Guice Offshore
Year Built: 2014
Joined SpaceX Fleet: 2019
Retired from SpaceX Fleet: 2021
SpaceX has been developing the fairing recovery program since 2016. In 2017, SpaceX chartered Ms. Tree and installed a large net onto the vessel. Ms. Tree would then try to position herself underneath a falling fairing and catch it in the net before it hit the water. It took until mid-2019 for the program to yield a successful catch. Following this success, in August 2019 SpaceX charted Ms. Chief – a ship that was near identical to Ms. Tree.
During fairing catch operations, two recovery ships were required to be able to catch both halves because each descended at the same time in different locations. Prior to Ms. Chief, Ms. Tree would attempt to catch one fairing half and then go hunting for the other, which would hopefully be floating on the ocean surface nearby.
Ms. Chief had a difficult introduction to mission operations. During her debut mission in November 2019, the vessel encountered heavy seas and was forced to abandon the recovery attempt because engineers were concerned about the structural integrity of the net system. On her first full mission – JCSAT-18 – the vessel suffered some minor damage to her net structure and was taken out of service for a few weeks whilst repairs were made.
Ms. Chief has made a handful of attempts at catching a fairing half. The ship caught a fairing half for the first time during the ANASIS-II mission on July 20th, 2020.
Retirement from SpaceX
Throughout 2020, SpaceX was not always attempting to catch the fairing half and instead opting to go straight for wet recovery, a process where the fairing is allowed to gracefully land on the ocean surface and is then lifted onto the recovery ship. This method often proved more reliable and less high-risk than catch attempts – which occasionally ended with significant damage to fairings and the catcher ships.
With a lack of catching reliability, SpaceX decided to abandon the catching program and opted to conduct wet recovery by default. GO Searcher and GO Navigator took on the responsibility of fairing recovery in March 2021 and Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief were slowly de-rigged of all SpaceX equipment – a process that itself took well over a month to complete. SpaceX made significant upgrades to both ships, including the catching structure, computer systems, communications, and rigging
A new fairing recovery ship, Shelia Bordelon, was contracted in March 2021 to take on the sole responsibility of fairing recovery for an interim period.
Ms. Chief completed final decommissioning work and departed from Port Canaveral, retiring from SpaceX operations, on April 12th, 2021.
Farewell water salute spin from Ms. Chief as SpaceX ends the use of fairing catchers (will now scoop the fairings from the surface of the Atlantic via soft touchdowns).— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) April 12, 2021
Via NSF Fleetcam: https://t.co/lzdAJXnIy6 https://t.co/fZBvnQJZfU pic.twitter.com/XkQmbIrG6u
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