Capitalism in space: If tomorrow’s launch of a South Korean military satellite by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket succeeds, it will set a new all-time record for the fastest turnaround of a used rocket, 44 days.
The previous record was 54 days, set by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1984. The article notes however the spectacular differences:
By far the most impressive aspect of Falcon 9’s imminent record is the comparison between the resources behind Space Shuttle Atlantis’ 54-day turnaround and Falcon 9 booster B1058’s ~44-day turnaround. Around the time NASA and Atlantis set the Shuttle’s longstanding record, some 5000-10000 full-time employees were tasked with refurbishing Space Shuttles and the facilities (and launch pads) that supported them. Based on retrospective analyses done after the STS program’s end in 2011, the average Space Shuttle launch (accounting for the vast infrastructure behind the scenes) ultimately wound up costing more than $1.5 billion per launch – more than the Saturn V rocket the Shuttle theoretically replaced.
According to a uniquely detailed May 2020 AviationWeek interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Falcon 9 booster turnaround may cost as little as $1 million apiece and can be managed from start to finish by several dozen employees at most. In other words, even though SpaceX boosters are suborbital and stressed quite a bit less than orbital Space Shuttles, Falcon 9 reuse is approximately a thousandfold more efficient that Space Shuttle reuse. [emphasis in original]
I should add that SpaceX also has three more launches on tap for the rest of July. If all lift off, the company will have launched four rockets in only three weeks, which in itself will be a record. No private rocket company has ever launched so frequently and so routinely. And only Russia during its Soviet Union heydays has come close to launching with this frequency.
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