Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX's long-term goal is to develop a rocket capable of full reusability. Engineers are actively developing a reusable launch system to recover spacecraft in order to be reused. The company's Falcon 9 rocket's first-stage booster uses the power of its own engines to conduct a controlled vertical landing at pads located both on land and at sea. In total, SpaceX has recovered 50 Falcon 9 rocket first-stage boosters -no other aerospace company has achieved that! SpaceX is truly a leader in aerospace innovation, recovering rocket boosters to reuse, significantly decreases the cost of spaceflight.
"If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space."
-Elon Musk, Founder of SpaceX
SpaceX developed Falcon 9 Block 5 with reusability in mind. Rockets in the Block 5 series are capable to be launched up to 10 times, and up to 100 times with refurbishment. So far, the most flights a particular rocket has flown is 4. Over the weekend, SpaceX will attempt to fly and recover a rocket booster for the 5th time -a first in rocket history!
The Falcon 9 rocket booster serial number B1048.5 will fly a 5th time during the Starlink-6 mission on Sunday, March 15. It will liftoff for the 5th time at 9:22 a.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Starlink-6 mission is part of the company's effort to build a constellation of internet-beaming satellites around Earth. The Falcon 9 rocket booster serial number B1048.5 will fly a 5th time during the Starlink-6 mission, that will carry 60 Starlink satellites into Low Earth Orbit on Sunday, March 15. It will liftoff for the 5th time at 9:22 a.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 first-stage serial number B1048.5 has previously flown on 4 missions, It first flew during the Iridium NEXT-7 mission in July 25, 2018. B1048 lifted off from California's Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. After deploying the Iridium satellite, the rocket booster landed at sea on the autonomous droneship called Just Read the Instructions. Then in October 8, 2018, B1048 flew for a second time carrying SAOCOM-1A craft from the same launch pad in California and landed a launch pad at Landing Zone 4. Its third mission took place February 22, 2019, the rocket launched Nusantara Satu and the Beresheet lunar lander to orbit and landed at sea on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship. The B1048 was then reused a fourth time in November 11, 2019, it conducted the first Starlink mission that deployed the first batch of 60 satellites into Low Earth Orbit. SpaceX will attempt to land the first-stage on Of Course I Still Love You again, around 8 minutes after liftoff over the weekend.
The fairing previously flew on the Starlink launch in May 2019 pic.twitter.com/AtYq6Omuku— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 13, 2020
During the upcoming Starlink-6 mission, SpaceX will also attempt to reuse a payload fairing, also known as the nose cone, which protects the payloads a top of the Falcon 9 rocket. The fairing previously flew on another Starlink launch that took place in May 2019. Catching fairings and maintaining them dry is crucial towards reusability because saltwater is very corrosive. The fairing will be recovered by using a ship. This ship has four arms holding a large net to catch the fairing as it lands from space. The rocket's fairing halves are equipped with small thrusters and a large parachute to soft land into the ocean.
A Falcon 9 rocket launch has a price tag starting at $62 million, by recovering and reusing a rocket fairing SpaceX could save about $6 million per mission, that is approximately 10 percent of the total cost of a launch. The Falcon 9 first-stage and the fairing make up approximately 80 percent of launch cost, which is a significant cost reduction. The company's goal is to eventually manufacture a spacecraft capable of being reused as often as an airplane with little refurbishment to reduce the cost of spaceflight.