Musk: 100+ reuses of Falcon 9 1st stages possible


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Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk:, based on what SpaceX has learned so far in reusing the 1st stages of its Falcon 9 rocket, it is entirely possible that the present design could result a hundred or more reuses.

Now, with all that experience in hand and a Falcon 9 Block 5 booster already 60% of the way to the ten-flight reuse milestone, Musk says that “100+ flights are possible” and that “there isn’t an obvious limit.” While “some parts will need to be replaced or upgraded” to achieve dozens or hundreds of booster reuses, Musk says that SpaceX “almost never need[s] to replace a whole [Merlin 1D] engine.

Given that a Falcon 9 booster’s nine M1D engines are likely the most difficult part of each rocket to quickly and safely reuse, it’s extremely easy to believe that individual boosters can launch dozens – if not hundreds – of times with just a small amount of regular maintenance and repairs. In that sense, SpaceX has effectively achieved Musk’s long-lived dream of building a rocket that is (more or less, at least) approaching the reusability of aircraft.

The next step in this effort will be to shorten the turnaround times. At the moment the best time between any booster’s reflight has been just under two months. SpaceX has said they want to be able to refly boosters in just days.

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9 comments

  • V-Man

    I wonder if there are other possible uses for the Falcon 9. You know, if you have an old stage that’s on its 104th flight, what else could you do with it?

    A tanker version, for example, with a stretched 2nd stage with tanks that extend all the way into the nose. No big loss if it fails, but useful once in orbit.

    Maybe you can have a usefulness progression, as the stages become older and less safe/valuable:
    Crew Dragon > Cargo Dragon > client payload > SpaceX payload > bulk supplies > tanker > retired

  • pzatchok

    Musk basically said that the main body/frame of the craft is very solid and never expected to deform.

    Everything else is replaceable.
    Landing legs, electronics, engines, even fuel tanks.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Even aircraft get worn out.

    But more often they reach a point where they are no longer economical to maintain, because tech has passed it by.

    Even if Starship gets up and running, I think there will always be a market for the size payload they are putting up. I hope they stay ahead on tech.

  • “I wonder if there are other possible uses for the Falcon 9. You know, if you have an old stage that’s on its 104th flight, what else could you do with it?”

    Remember all those artists’ conceptions of space stations made of Shuttle External Tanks? Falcon 9 is twelve feet wide. Gang them together, apartments in space. Or an office-mall in space. Or a hospital in space. Or, since they already know how to soft-land them, half-built Lunar habitats, delivered cheap. Quonset huts in space!

  • MDN

    The cost savings enabled by re-use are very high initially, but go down as launch count increases. Simplistically the savings is 50% for the first re-use, 67% for the second, 75% for the third, 80% for the fourth, etc. Thus the savings hit a point of diminishing returns pretty much once you get past 10 launches, at which point fixed costs (fuel, facilities, labor, etc.) will start to dominate the overall cost.

    But SpaceX has proven quite efficient in this regard too what with locating in Boca Chica, using standard cranes and equipment for the most part where NASA would engineer custom stuff (like the half billion dollar crawler/mover for SLS that is only designed for the first flight configuration, but then needs another half billion in re-work for the full monty configuration), etc. That is they operate as any for profit company does minding to keep these in control whereas a government bureaucracy tends to inflate them as their raison d’etre.

    My guess is that Falcon 9 at 100 flight life-cycle their per launch cost will be around $10M-$15M, and that pushing beyond that will have a pretty negligible affect.

  • Col Beausabre

    What about a secondary market in used boosters, operated on the cheap by second or third tier firms serving a less wealthy class of customer. Whole shipping empires were founded after WW2 using surplus Liberty Ships (MarCom Design EC-2) to serve that “less than carriage trade” market. Or look at the Non-Scheduled Airlines operating aircraft discarded by the majors (ask almost any veteran about flying on a charter hop)

  • Col Beausabre

    On a separate point, I wonder if the Feds will bust up SpaceX as being in violation of Anti-Trust. Examples 1) United Aircraft consisted of builders Sikorsky and Vought, engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney and prop maker Hamilton Standard and also operated United Air Lines. The Trust Busters forced the operating and manufacturing arms to be split into separately owned and operated firms. 2) Pullman. The Feds forced the railroad car builder to sell its cars and operating arm to a group of railroads. It seems to me that based on these precedents, SpaceX will have to separate its launch business from its vehicle building business…..time will tell

  • pzatchok

    They will never sell them on the open market.

    Thats like handing Iran or any other group that can come up with 20 million dollars a viable ICBM.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Col B

    If ULA or Blue Origin (as currently planned), or any of the others have the same model, construction and launch service, then it would not be an issue, I would think.

    Pullman had gone out of its way to absorb or buy out all competition.
    And the targeting of the operation side of things was related to race issues of the day.

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