SpaceX will attempt to launch a 3.7 tonne Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite for the US Air Force on Tuesday. This launch of GPS III is scheduled for a Falcon 9 rocket between 1
The launch marks the first time that SpaceX will attempt to recover a booster used to launch a satellite for the U.S. military. Although the launch was originally contracted to fly on a expendable booster, Space News reports that the US Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center agreed to review some mission requirements so that SpaceX could go back. In return, the company took “several million dollars” from the launch price, which was originally awarded to SpaceX in 2017 for $ 96.5 million.
SpaceX needs this first stage back to help balance a busy second half of the year.
On May 11, 2018, the company launched the first of its new “Block 5” version of its Falcon 9 rocket. This new first stage version incorporated all previous company performance updates on the Falcon 9 rocket, while maximizing its reuse. It worked: SpaceX has now piloted two different Falcon 9 cores five times, and could fly for the first time for the sixth time since this summer.
The success of the Block 5 rocket means that SpaceX had to spend less time and resources on building the early stages of Falcon 9. Since May 2018, it has launched 31 times on a Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket, while using only 10 cores. Put another way, the reuse has allowed SpaceX to cut the costs of 189 Merlin rocket engines, dozens of fuel tanks and many complex avionics systems.
But only four of these first ten stages remain. Over the past two years, SpaceX has lost a couple of early stages – for example, in December 2018 a mains fin pump failure caused a first stage to land just off Florida – and intentionally spent some during the launch of particularly heavy payloads. So of its fleet of 10 early Falcon 9 missile stages (based on reader input and this resource at the r / SpaceX subreddit), SpaceX currently only has these cores in service for Falcon 9 launches:
- Five missions flown (September 2018-present)
- Days since last flight: 27
- Next flight: unknown
- Four missions flown (March 2019-present)
- Days since last flight: 69 days
- Next flight: Starlink-9 (early July)
- A mission flown (May 2020-present)
- Days since last flight: 31
- Next flight: unknown (possibly Anasis-2 in July)
- Three missions flown (December 2019-present)
- Days since last flight: 17
- Next flight: unknown
Tuesday’s launch of the GPS III satellite built by Lockheed Martin will therefore add a new upgrade to the SpaceX missile fleet of the first stage. The company also has two more new Falcon 9 first stage repeaters in the pipeline, with another GPS III mission coming in August and then the Crew-1 mission that transports four NASA astronauts to the International Space Station probably some September .
However, SpaceX will have to be careful in managing its fleet. The company plans a second half of 2020, with approximately six additional Starlink satellite launches via the Internet, several commercial missions, a couple of NASA launches and a couple of U.S. military launches on its manifest.
To complete all these missions it will be necessary for the company to continue to successfully return to its early stages, to exceed five flights per repeater and possibly to further reduce response times between missions. So far, the airline’s record for the time it takes to check and recertify a first stage of Falcon 9 for the flight is 63 days.
The bottom line is that today’s launch of a Falcon 9 rocket is an essential mission for the US Air Force. But for SpaceX, bring the new core back on Read the instructions droneship will be equally important to launch a long manifest in 2020. Reuse is no longer experimental; is on the critical path.
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