SpaceX has long talked a good game about increasing launch frequency, but the company now seems to be performing in a big way. After two launches in four days, the California-based company has now flown seven rockets in 2018: six Falcon 9 missions and one Falcon Heavy. That equates to one launch every 13 days this year.
This is a significant number as it puts the company within its longstanding goal of launching a rocket every two weeks. At this rate, SpaceX will launch a total of 27 rockets in 2018, which is in line with the expectations of the company’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell.
In late 2017, when the company was in the process of breaking all of its previous launch records by flying 18 missions, Shotwell said SpaceX would aim for more in the coming year. “We will increase our cadence by about 50 percent next year,” Shotwell said Space news. “Next year we’ll be flying more than this year, holding wood, and I think we’re probably going to level off around that rate, 30 to 40 a year.”
Cheap, but not reliable
About a decade ago, when SpaceX began publishing its launch prices online, it severely undermined its rivals in the commercial launch market. With the low price of about $60 million per launch, SpaceX built up a long-standing customer base, causing some accounts to create a backlog of nearly 100 missions. In response to the upstart, SpaceX’s competitors criticized the company for failing to deliver on its ambitious promises of dozens of launches per year. Why buy from SpaceX, they said, if a satellite has to wait years to get into space?
And for a while this was true. From 2012 to 2016, SpaceX averaged fewer than five successful launches of its Falcon 9 rocket per year. (Catastrophic failures in 2015 shortly after launch and on the launch pad in 2016 didn’t help). But last year, without fail, SpaceX finally started mastering the art of supply lines, in-house manufacturing, engine testing workflow and more to achieve 18 launches.
This increase does not appear to have been a fluke. With its early success this year, and now three launch pads at its disposal in Florida and California, the company shows it can make another significant jump in cadence, allaying doubts from rivals who said SpaceX would never be able to fly. manifest.
“SpaceX proves what proponents of commercial space have always believed, that more affordable, reliable and abundant access to space will change the level and nature of demand for space transportation,” said James Muncy, founder and president of PoliSpace, an independent space policy advisory. . “It’s not just that SpaceX can launch 30 or more times a year – and they will continue to increase their flight speed in 2019 – it’s also that demand is increasing. That’s great news for all emerging launch providers and for government if they can intelligently.” to buy.”
Busy weeks ahead
After two launches in four days, SpaceX is likely to launch two more rockets this month. On April 16, SpaceX will launch NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite from its Space Launch Complex 40 pad in Florida, followed about a week later by the launch of a communications satellite for Bangladesh, at nearby Launch Complex 39A. For now, two more launches are scheduled for May.
Even as it has increased its launch flight speed, SpaceX has also begun to make cheap, reusable rockets seem more real. In the past 12 months, it has flown 11 “used” Falcon 9 first stage rockets. All these missions have been successful. In the coming months, it will move to a newer version of this booster, Block 5, optimized for faster reuse.
List image by Trevor Mahlmann/Special to Ars