Which SpaceX droneship is California bound (and why it’s probably Of Course I Still Love You)

We’ve been talking recently about SpaceX’s newest droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas and that it will be replacing one of SpaceX’s droneships on the east coast. It has become pretty apparent now which droneship it will be replacing.

Before SpaceX was launching 30-40 rockets every year and had a more spaced-out schedule across their east and west coast launch sites. They had one droneship on each coast, each with their own support fleet but now their fleet has been consolidated onto the east coast since the majority of launches have been taking place there.

This situation is changing and they will soon need a new fleet over on the west coast to support a new batch of upcoming scientific and commercial satellites needing a polar orbit. While SpaceX has launched two missions using the new polar corridor the Space Force opened from Florida, the launch schedule remains high still, and moving launches to Vandenberg will free up the range for other missions.

Of Course I Still Love You getting ready to leave

OCISLY returned to Port Canaveral from recovering the booster for last week’s CRS-22 mission to the International Space Station. Once it docked at SpaceX’s part of the port, operations to move booster B1067 off the deck of OCISLY and ready it for transportation started almost instantaneously.

SpaceX teams began draining the ballast tanks in the barge which finished yesterday, this raised the barge a few feet out of the water. Bumpers are now being installed on the wings of the barge, most likely to aid in tug boats still being able to move the barge now that it is higher out of the water.

Where is OCISLY going?

It is now guaranteed that OCISLY will be departing Port Canaveral for the eventual home of California. This trip will need to travel through the Panama Canal, which SpaceX’s other droneship Just Read The Instructions did a few years ago. When Just Read The Instructions went through the canal it had to remove the wings but OCISLY is not receiving that treatment which could indicate two things. Either it is heading to a dry dock near New Orleans for much-needed upgrades or it will go through the newer and wider locks opened at the Panama Canal in 2016.

Just Read The Instructions passing through the Panama Canal with its wings on its deck. Credit: Unknown

Here are the outcomes we could see happen:

  • OCISLY heads to Port Long Beach in California for initial west coast launches and ASOG heads to Port Canaveral to take her place. Then OCISLY heads back through the Panama Canal to a port near New Orleans for refurbishment and upgrades after initial launches take place. (Very Likely)
  • OCISLY heads to a port near New Orleans for refurbishment and upgrades before heading to Port Long Beach for its permanent tenure as the west coast droneship. ASOG takes her place at Port Canaveral (Possible)
  • ASOG heads to Port Long Beach to become the west coast droneship while OCISLY gets refurbishments and upgrades near New Orleans then returns to Port Canaveral. (Unlikely but can’t be proven wrong yet)

What’s launching from California?

Currently, the first time-sensitive mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base are 3 German surveillance satellites in September. If we use the same timeline for ASOG’s construction then OCISLY should have plenty of time to be upgraded and do sea trials before that launch is ready. But SpaceX wants to do a polar Starlink launch from Vandenberg as early as July, now this isn’t a nail in the coffin for any timeframes but if they are really serious about that launch happening in July, then an unupgraded OCISLY could be the way to get that done without expending the Falcon 9’s first stage.

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