SpaceX has planned to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks. This will be the fastest launch rate of the company, which started launches in 2010. To speed up things, the company will put a new launch pad into service next week, its president told Reuters on Monday.
How SpaceX plans to expedite launches
Five months ago, one of SpaceX’s rockets burst into flames on the launch pad at the company’s original launch site in Florida. SpaceX has launched only one rocket since then in mid-January, but that’s about to change.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters, “We should be launching every two to three weeks.”
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Last autumn, SpaceX was approaching that pace when its rocket met with an accident during a routine preflight test on September 1. An Israeli satellite worth $200 million was destroyed in the explosion, which also heavily damaged the launch pad, says Reuters.
The new launch pad will cost the company $100 million, while repairs to the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station should cost far less than half of that, said Shotwell. The new launch pad is located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which is just north of the Cape Canaveral site.
Making design changes
According to Shotwell, SpaceX is modifying the rocket’s engines to increase performance and resolve potential safety concerns. The rocket’s engines get their supply of propellants from the Falcon 9’s turbopump, and the company is planning to change its design. This should eliminate the cracks that have prompted concern from NASA and the U.S. Air Force, says Reuters.
“For us, the concern was not the cracks, but do they grow over time? Would these cracks cause a flight failure?” Shotwell said.
Going ahead, SpaceX plans to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station using its Dragon crew capsule. At the end of 2017, a trial launch of the capsule without crew is scheduled. The trial will include rigorous testing of parachutes, spacesuits and other related equipment.
The company plans to confirm the capsule’s capabilities with a crewed test flight after that in May 2018. If the trial goes well, by the end of next year, astronauts would likely travel in the SpaceX capsule.
Apart from the United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing — SpaceX is the only other company approved to fly military and national security satellites for the Air Force.