SpaceX is planning to launch a rocket every two to three weeks in 2017. According to Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, they have established their annual schedule as they set the goal of launching a minimum of 1 rocket every two to three weeks.
Shotwell told Reuters that as their new launch pad is going to be inaugurated in the next days, the ambitious goal becomes very possible. SpaceX’s former launch pad, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, was severely damaged back in September when one of the SpaceX’s rockets exploded and burst into flames during a routinary test. This accident raised concern in both NASA and the U.S. Air Force regarding the company’s unconventional method for rocket fueling.
The company had previously announced that they were reinitiating their flight testing program as this resumption would overcome SpaceX’s backlogged schedule. However, not only the space company will be back on tracks, but with the hope of launching a rocket every two to three weeks. SpaceX’s objective of reducing the cost of space traveling seems dramatically more viable.
“SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access. A rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of traveling to space by a hundredfold,” the company wrote on their official website on Tuesday.
What this ambitious schedule would mean to SpaceX
According to a Jefferies International LLC report published last year, SpaceX could save about $25 million per launch, considering that their current standard price goes up to $61 million per launch. This saving is calculated if assuming that the profit percentage will be located in 40 percent, as the company’s policy of reusing rockets in their missions makes their launches cheaper in costs.
The report also suggested that SpaceX’s profits could augment to 77 percent, even if the company gives up half of their profits to the consumers.
SpaceX would launch about 17 rockets in a whole year. This cipher is more than the 15 flights a year that the Jefferies International LLC estimated for SpaceX to produce considerable profits and savings. Jefferies is an investment bank that is analyzing the advances regarding the telecommunication satellites field.
The initial SpaceX’s schedule was oriented to do testing in one to three rockets every week. However, after the Falcon 9 rocket explosion on September 1, the company was grounded on conducting any similar flights as investigators tried to determine the actual cause of the accident. The investigation team was composed of experts from the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Air Force, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
In that occasion, the investigators determined that there was a helium tank that was destroyed after an extreme cooling process produced by liquid nitrogen during fueling. This rupture generated the explosion of the communications satellite and severe damage to the launch pad. The investigation backlogged SpaceX’s schedule in 70 missions, which represents over $10 billion of paralyzed investments.
According to Shotwell, the company is not only performing all the repairs needed in its Cape Canaveral launch pad but it is also redefining the launching methods to avoid general concern regarding SpaceX’s fueling process.
Shotwell stated that the company is looking forward to changing the design of the Falcon 9’s turbopump, the device that provides the rocket with propellants, to avoid and eliminate the cracks that produce the concern.
NASA and the U.S. Air Force have asked SpaceX to overcome the mentioned cracks, which by the way are not related to the September 1 accident. Both agencies are hoping they could hire SpaceX as taxi for astronauts in late 2018.
This is not the first time that there have been concerns regarding the SpaceX’s fueling method. This process consists in using chilled liquid oxygen to allow the entrance of more fuel, and therefore, the launch of a lighter rocket. The crew must be present prior the fueling for the fuel not to warm up and be dangerous. According to Thomas Stafford, International Space Station Advisory Committee Chairman Lt. Gen., this method throws out decades of launching safety policies to the trash.
On the same issue, experts are also concerned about the fact that SpaceX reuses first stage rockets. They are not even sure about the company’s ability to recycle any machinery.
“There are ongoing challenges in translating a reused rocket to tangible [capital expenditure] savings – worries about it failing, insurance implications, retrofitting turnaround, building up a critical mass of reused first stages in the warehouse,” Jefferies wrote in its report.
Source: The Christian Science Monitor