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The competition heats up: Even as SpaceX upgrades its Falcon 9 rocket as a result of tests of the returned first stage, the company said this week that it plans to increase its production and launch rate significantly in 2016.
“We’ve had the luxury in years past of having to build only a few rockets a year,” [Company official Gwynne Shotwell] said, “so we really weren’t in a production mode.” Last year would have been the first to require a high production rate of the rocket, she said, had it not been for the June launch failure that halted flights for nearly six months. “Now we’re in this factory transformation to go from building six or eight a year to about 18 cores a year. By the end of this year we should be at over 30 cores per year,” she said. “So you see the factory start to morph.”
Those changes, she said, include doubling the number of first stages that can be assembled at one time from three to six. The company is also working to accelerate production of the Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9 since, at the higher production rates planned for this year, the company will need to build hundreds of engines a year.
She also said that they hope to reach a cadence of a launch every two to three weeks.
We shall see. While I have confidence in SpaceX’s ultimate ability to achieve these promises, much can change as they ramp up their effort. For example, Shotwell noted that they had hoped to achieve this launch rate in 2015, but were stopped after the June launch failure.