On Sunday, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket for the second time in 48 hours, setting a record for the shortest turnaround between two SpaceX flights. Yesterday, the Falcon 9 rocket launched 10 Iridium NEXT telephone relay stations into orbit, and two days before that, the rocket lifted a Bulgarian communications satellite from Florida.
SpaceX sets a record, but it wasn’t intentional
This was the second batch of Iridium’s NEXT constellation, which will be comprised of 75 satellites once SpaceX launches them all. According to Iridium, this network will bolster communications on Earth irrespective of time and distance. Iridium CEO Matt Desch stated that the company has six more launch agreements with SpaceX over the next 12 months. These new satellites will eventually replace the old ones, some of which have been in orbit since the 1990s.
Although the weather was not ideal, SpaceX did manage to land the Falcon 9 on the autonomous ocean-borne landing barge. SpaceX founder Elon Musk noted that the drone ship had to be repositioned due to the unfavorable weather.
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Launch at 1:25 delivering 10 satellites for Iridium. Droneship repositioned due to extreme weather. Will be tight. https://t.co/6ZcSG29B74
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 25, 2017
SpaceX’s back-to-back launches set a record for the shortest turnaround between two SpaceX flights launched from two different sites. The company never intended to have such a busy weekend. Originally, Friday’s launch was scheduled for last weekend, but due to a technical issue, it was postponed, notes The Verge.
However, Musk’s SpaceX will surely repeat the stint (or even better it) as it works to fix the damaged launch pad at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX mirrored the event that occurred in 1995 when two orbital-class U.S. rockets of a similar type were launched in a time interval of two days.
At the time, the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket and Atlas E launcher took off for two distinctive missions from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying an Intelsat broadcast satellite and an Air Force Weather satellite into space, notes Spaceflight Now. Most recently, two Russian Soyuz rockets were launched from two different launch pads in Kazakhstan and French Guiana on the same day in March 2015.
What’s new with the Falcon 9?
By refurbishing used rockets, the company is able to save tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars to build custom rockets for each mission. However, Sunday’s Falcon 9 was a new one with larger and upgraded titanium hypersonic grid fins. Musk stated that these fins are carved out of a single piece of cast and cut titanium and can weather re-entry without shielding, notes The Verge.
“New titanium grid fins worked even better than expected. Should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service,” Musk tweeted.
He noted that compared to the shielded aluminum fins, the titanium fins are “slightly heavier.” However, he stated that this upgrade was necessary since it would provide better control authority for stabilization and steering as the pencil-like 14-story booster arrives back on Earth.
Musk accepted that heavier titanium fins would require more hydraulic fuel.
“They will, but the hydraulic system is closed loop, so no fluid lost. They do need more power and energy, but rocket has plenty of that,” the executive said.