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SpaceX about to set reuse record for fastest turnaround ever

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.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

One comment

  • MDN

    The shuttle was an incredibly impressive achievement with 1960s technology, but it was never economical. It was a quintessentially American vehicle, our Suburban to space. Big, rugged, and room to take 7 passengers and all the toys and supplies on two week road trips, but mileage was decidedly poor. No matter, it did its job and was something to be proud of.

    But materials and computer science are not static, and Musk recognized that 50 years of progress by both made possible what was previously fantasy, Buck Rogers spaceships that take off AND land. And with his business acumen he realized how economical and transformative that would be (like enabling10,000 satellite constellations to connect the planet).

    We all applauded the shuttle, but we’ll all benefit far more in the years ahead because of SpaceX.

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