Iridium launches might use reused Falcon 9 first stages


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Capitalism in space: Iridium is considering using Falcon 9 previously flown first stages for its later already contracted launches with SpaceX.

Iridium is launching 75 of its 81 second-generation Iridium Next satellites using eight Falcon 9 launches, the first of which took place Jan. 14. In a conference call with reporters June 19, Desch said Iridium’s original contract with SpaceX calls for new Falcon 9s for each mission, but if SpaceX can improve its launch schedule with pre-flown stages, Iridium would consider them for missions in 2018. “While we are currently flying first flown launches, I’m open to previously flown launches, particularly for the second half of our launch schedule,” said Desch.

Desch said there are three criterion by which Iridium would decide whether to use a pre-flown rocket: schedule, cost and reliability — of which schedule is the most important. “Would [pre-flown rockets] improve the current launch plan that I have with brand-new rockets that I’ve basically contracted for a number of years ago and have budgeted for and have paid for?” Desch asked. “That’s the first thing: will they improve my schedule, because schedule to me is very very important.”

I think this tells us that Iridium is waiting to see if this week’s launch of a Bulgarian satellite on a reused first stage is successful. The article also also notes that they are still negotiating over price for using “flight proven” first stages.

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  • Anthony Domanico

    If I recall correctly SpaceX doesn’t plan to give a substantial discount on “flight proven” boosters until the ~$1 billion in development costs (for the ability to recover the first stage) have been recouped. I can’t wait until they have the ability to reuse the fairings in addition to the first stage and can offer prices accordingly.

    As far as India’s competitive prices, that’s only one aspect that the market looks at. Reliability and schedule assurance are also important considerations and it remains to be seen if the GSLV is going to be a reliable vehicle. According to Wikipedia the GSLV mk 1 has had two successes, three failures, and one partial failure. The mk 2 is a little better with four successes and one failure.

    I’m admittedly partial to the home team, but SpaceX’s record is markedly better considering the innovation and rate of launches. Compare that to ISRO’s launch vehicles which, to this lamen, appear lower tech. Sorry Robert, I know those are your peeps, but SpaceX will wipe the floor with em! :)

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