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SpaceX and ABS sign droneship joint development deal

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ABS has signed a joint development project (JDP) with spacecraft manufacturer and satcomms company SpaceX.

The project covers review of the remotely controlled functions of the autonomous droneships SpaceX uses for rocket recovery at sea. The droneships are effectively large landing pads for rocket engines to land on upright, allowing the recovery and re-use of the engines.

The droneships have four thruster engines for propulsion and station holding, along with blast shielding to protect equipment from the rocket exhaust. The autonomous droneships are unmanned during rocket landings due to the safety concerns around such operations. The boosters are secured by a robot before the vessel returns to port.

The ABS announcement comes as SpaceX prepares to send its Starship vehicle to space this summer. Starship is poised to take NASA astronauts to the moon in 2025, and SpaceX owner Elon Musk has ambitions to send the vehicle to Mars.

The project will review the design of one of SpaceX’s three rocket recovery droneships for compliance with the ABS Guide for Autonomous and Remote-Control Functions. Due to the unique and challenging operating requirements, ABS will apply a risk-based approach to the evaluation of the autonomous functions.

“Through our work on autonomous and remote-control technologies in projects with leading partners all over the world, ABS has been leading the way in supporting its practical application at sea. This makes us ideally placed to work with SpaceX on its unique and exciting project,” said Patrick Ryan, ABS Senior Vice President, Global Engineering and Technology.