Payload fairing


Artist's rendering of a payload fairing being jettisoned
An example of clamshell fairing of Falcon 9 during testing, 27 May 2013

A payload fairing is a nose cone used to protect a spacecraft payload against the impact of dynamic pressure and aerodynamic heating during launch through an atmosphere. An additional function on some flights is to maintain the cleanroom environment for precision instruments.[citation needed] Once outside the atmosphere the fairing is jettisoned, exposing the payload to outer space.

The standard payload fairing is typically a cone-cylinder combination, due to aerodynamic considerations, although other specialized fairings are in use. The type of fairing which separates into two halves upon jettisoning is called a clamshell fairing by way of analogy to the bifurcating shell of a clam. In some cases the fairing may enclose both the payload and the upper stage of the rocket, such as on Atlas V[1] and Proton M.[2]

If the payload is attached both to the booster's core structures and to the fairing, the payload may still be affected by the fairing's bending loads, as well as inertia loads due to vibrations caused by gusts and buffeting.[3]

Fairing retrieval and reuse

Payload fairings have usually been either burned up in the atmosphere or destroyed upon impacting the ocean, but one company began to retrieve them after the mid-2010s. On March 30, 2017, SpaceX successfully retrieved a fairing intact for the first time in history.[4] For a second time on June 25, 2019, SpaceX was able to catch a fairing from the Falcon Heavy STP-2 launch.[5] After this, SpaceX began reusing its fairings, which are manufactured at a cost of US$6 million per orbital launch; its CEO, Elon Musk, stated that retrieving the fairings before they touch sea water "makes refurbishment easier".[6]

Mission failures caused by payload fairings

In some cases, the fairing is planned to separate after cutoff of the upper stage, and in others, the separation is to occur before a cutoff, but after the vehicle has transcended the densest part of the atmosphere. Failure of the fairing to separate in these cases may cause the craft to fail to reach orbit, due to the extra mass.

The Augmented Target Docking Adapter in orbit, with its payload fairing still attached

The Augmented Target Docking Adapter, to be used for the Gemini 9A crewed mission, was successfully placed into orbit by an Atlas SLV-3 in June 1966. But when the Gemini crew rendezvoused with it, they discovered the fairing had failed to open and separate, making docking impossible. Two lanyards, which should have been removed before flight, were still in place. The cause was determined to be a launch crew error.

In 1999, the launch of the IKONOS-1 Earth observation satellite failed after the payload fairing of the Athena II rocket did not open properly, preventing the satellite from reaching orbit.[7]

On February 24, 2009, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite failed to reach orbit after liftoff; the agency concluded that the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate, causing the vehicle to retain too much mass and subsequently fall back to Earth and land in the Indian Ocean near Antarctica.[8][9]

The same happened to the Naro-1, South Korea's first carrier rocket, launched on August 25, 2009. During the launch, half of the payload's fairing failed to separate, and as a result, the rocket was thrown off course. The satellite did not reach a stable orbit.[10]

On March 4, 2011, NASA's Glory satellite launch failed to reach orbit after liftoff due to a fairing separation failure on the Orbital Sciences Taurus XL launch vehicle, ending up in the Indian Ocean.[11] This failure represented the second consecutive failure of a fairing on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL vehicle.[12] NASA subsequently decided to switch the launch vehicle for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory's replacement, OCO-2, from a Taurus to a Delta II rocket.[13]

On August 31, 2017, ISRO's IRNSS-1H satellite failed to deploy after the payload fairing of the rocket PSLV-C39 failed to separate. As a result of extra mass, the rocket could not reach the desired orbit despite each stage's performance being nominal. The payload separated internally, but got stuck within the heat shield.[14][15]


Image gallery

See also


  1. ^ "Atlas V cutaway" (PDF). United Launch Alliance. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-03-10. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  2. ^ A Conceptual Design for the Space Launch capability of the peacekeeper ICBM [1] Archived 2017-08-12 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Thomas P. Sarafin, Wiley J. (1995) "Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms--from Concept to Launch", ISBN 0-7923-3476-0 p. 47 Archived 2013-11-03 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Lopatto, Elizabeth (31 March 2017). "SpaceX even landed the nose cone from its historic used Falcon 9 rocket launch". The Verge. Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  5. ^ Ralph, Eric (2019-06-25). "SpaceX successfully catches first Falcon fairing ever in Mr. Steven's/Ms. Tree's net". TESLARATI. Archived from the original on 2019-06-26. Retrieved 2019-06-25.
  6. ^ Wall, Mike. "Watch SpaceX boat catch falling payload fairing in giant net (video)" Archived 2020-08-19 at the Wayback Machine,, August 19, 2020
  7. ^ Athena Investigation Points to Payload Fairing Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Perez, Martin (5 March 2015). "Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2)". NASA. Archived from the original on 18 July 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  9. ^ ""NASA Satellite Crashes Before Reaching Orbit"". Archived from the original on 2019-07-07. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  10. ^ "S. Korean satellite lost shortly after launch: gov't". Yonhap News. Archived from the original on 2018-10-01. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  11. ^ Buck, Joshua (February 19, 2013). "NASA Releases Glory Taurus XL Launch Failure Report Summary Archived 2019-05-02 at the Wayback Machine". NASA. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
  12. ^ "NASA science satellite lost in Taurus launch failure". SpaceFlight Now. Archived from the original on 2019-05-04. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  13. ^ "Spaceflight Now - Breaking News - Carbon-sniffing satellite faces one-year delay". Archived from the original on 2019-05-01. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  14. ^ "Setback for ISRO: Launch of navigation satellite IRNSS-1H unsuccessful". The Economic Times. 2017-08-31. Archived from the original on 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  15. ^ "ISRO says IRNSS-1H launch unsuccessful, heat shields failed to separate". The Indian Express. 2017-08-31. Archived from the original on 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  16. ^ Brian Harvey, "Europe's Space Programme: To Ariane and Beyond", ISBN 1-85233-722-2, p. 150
  17. ^ "Atlas V Launch Services User's Guide" (PDF). United Launch Alliance. March 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  18. ^ "Fairing". SpaceX. 2013-04-12. Archived from the original on 2019-06-04. Retrieved 2015-07-30.