SpaceX’s Autonomous Rocket-Recovery Droneships Evaluated

The American Bureau of Shipping recently issued a guide for autonomous and remote-control functions on ships

John Yellig

July 19, 2022

2 Min Read
Images shows a SpaceX Autonomous rocket-recovery droneship

The maritime classification society American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is set to evaluate the autonomous functions of SpaceX’s rocket-recovery droneships for compliance with its Guide for Autonomous and Remote-Control Functions, published last year.

Under a joint-development project between the companies, ABS will review the design of one of SpaceX’s three droneships, which are used as unmanned, seaborne landing platforms for the spacecraft company’s reusable booster rockets when they return to earth. Citing the “unique and challenging operating requirements” of the droneships, ABS will apply a risk-based approach when evaluating the crafts’ autonomous functions.

Founded in 1862, ABS is a ship-classification society that sets and maintains technical standards for ships and offshore structures. It issued the guide last year to provide a goal-based framework establishing the technical requirements for autonomous and remote-control functions at sea. The guide also established two new class notations, AUTONOMOUS and REMOTE-CON. 

The SpaceX droneships consist of an expanded landing deck for rocket landings. Entirely unmanned, the platforms maneuver with four thruster engines and are covered with blast shielding to protect electrical and engine equipment on deck. An onboard robot is used to secure rocket boosters after they land and before the ship returns to port. 

“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,” says Patrick Ryan, ABS senior vice president for global engineering and technology. “This makes us ideally placed to work with SpaceX on its unique and exciting project. We are proud that our capabilities in this area have been recognized by a true pioneer such as SpaceX.”

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