Iridium switches two upcoming launches to reused Falcon 9 first stages


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Capitalism in space: Iridium has revised its launch agreements for two upcoming launches using the Falcon 9 rocket to have both use previously flown first stages.

While the article provides a lot of good background on SpaceX’s increasing sales of reused first stages, including the fact that 20% of SpaceX’s launches this year might end up using re-used first stages, an amazing number consider this is also the first year they are doing so, this quote from the article however is even more astonishing:

Importantly for Iridium, and for the launch market as a whole, Iridium revealed in its announcement that the cost of insuring the Iridium NEXT-4 and -5 missions did not change with the switch to flight-proven boosters. “Iridium confirmed with its insurers that there is no increase in premium for the launch program as a result of the use of flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets, further supporting Iridium’s conclusion that the risk profile is unchanged,” noted the release.

Overall, this is an excellent sign that the all-important insurance market element of spaceflight continues to see no increased risk with launching atop flight-proven boosters.

One of my sources close to SpaceX says that the company will likely not fly these reused first stages intact more than twice, but will still salvage the engines for additional reuses. Considering the engines are the most expensive component, this makes great sense. Even if SpaceX doesn’t fly a first stage intact, it has developed an efficient and effective method for recovering the engines for reuse.

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One comment

  • geoffc

    Amusingly, just reusing the engines, will inadvertantly forward the Vulcan business case for ULA. The original plan was to sever the tanks and have the engine complex return for reuse.

    (Or Abilene from Arianespace).

    Of course, I expect that it will also demonstrate how dumb a model it is, when the other option is recover the entire stage intact for reflight. (Looking at you Block 5!!!)

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