March 2017 could be the Make-or-break month for Elon Musk and SpaceX as Gwynne Shotwell reveals a reused rocket will deliver a satellite into space within a month.
Anyone familiar with Elon Musk’s space exploration company, SpaceX, will know of its ultimate goal; to make humanity a multi-planetary species. Elon Musk has long wanted for us to reach Mars and set up a colony on the red planet as an insurance policy in case of a disaster on Earth. The first step in actually getting people to Mars is to drastically bring down the price of actually getting people into space and reusing rockets is the way, Elon says, that we will do just that.
SpaceX has successfully landed 12 first stage boosters on either land or brilliantly named drone barges in the sea. They spectacularly lost 8 of the first stage boosters, usually streamed live, but hey; it’s better than any other company or government organization has ever done. So now SpaceX have a warehouse full of used boosters taking up space and it is probably time to prove their system works by getting those boosters to work again.
One of the used Falcon 9 boosters has been extensively refurbished and tested to ensure safety, and is now ready for a second flight. SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell, revealed that she will get it back in the sky within a month. SpaceX are in agreement with satellite operator SES and will reuse, for the first time in aviation history, a first stage booster to launch a payload into orbit. SES wanted a 50% price reduction for launching a refurbished rocket but Shotwell bartered and they got a 30% discount.
“We do anticipate reflying about six vehicles, [with] pre-flown boosters this year, which should take some of the pressure off of production,” Shotwell said.
They hope to then land the booster again, to reuse again so the process continues and the once-wild idea becomes a reality. The Falcon 9 is a multi-stage rocket and the first stage; the part they are trying to use, can cost up the three quarters of the overall price of the hardware. Reusing this part would mean massive cost cuts and allow Musk to steam ahead with his ideas.
You do, it has to be said, take SpaceX timelines with a grain of salt as they do have the tendency to delay and push back; but hey, they are launching things into space, not building malls. Musk originally wanted a reused rocket to launch by mid-2016 but that date has slipped and we are still waiting with baited breath. TSI has been told that March is a reliable date and the firm is deadly serious about getting a reused rocket into space, despite insurance premiums rocketing, no pun intended.
Either they are successful or they aren’t. If they are, it would be a major motivator in the space launch industry and could be a wakeup call to their rivals such as Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin. Launches would get cheaper, more people would be launching, their schedule would get busier and the money would start to roll in to fund the ultimate goal; mission Mars. Should they fail; perish the thought, it might be a huge dent in the SpaceX ambitions and could push insurance premiums through the roof. Providers might cancel and choose rivals, and Mars might be left to the old bureaucrats at NASA to sort out. They will attempt a landing, either at sea or on land but that will be an irrelevant sideshow; although knowing Elon, he will want to nail that spectacularly as well.