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SpaceX’s dream of reusing rockets is within reach after the fastest recovery yet

SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk’s dream of rocket reusability seems to be within reach for the first time after the engineers managed to pull the landing legs of the recently launched Falcon 9 booster back and bring it horizontal in record time.

After the second launch, landing, and restoration of Falcon 9 in the orbital class of a SpaceX this month, the restoration milestone could mean preparing Booster B1059 for the fastest turnaround in company history. Coupled with two Starlink launches, now less than two weeks after June 2020, and a third Internet satellite mission scheduled for June 22nd, chances are better than ever that SpaceX will have a record launch rate the second can start half a year.

B1059 arrives in Port Canaveral for the first time after its third start in the orbital class. (Richard Angle)

On average, a sustained frequency of one launch every ~ 7 days would allow SpaceX to do more than 50 orbital launches per year. Only earlier this year, an environmental impact assessment conducted for upgrades at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Pad 39A revealed plans for up to 70 annual launches of SpaceX’s two Florida pads by 2023.

Technically, SpaceX has already shown that these two Florida launch pads – KSC Pad 39A and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) LC-40 – can support 60-70 annual launches when they reach their limits, the latter recently performing two starts in just nine days for a maximum of 40 starts in one year. If SpaceX can complete four Falcon 9 launches in 27 days, as is currently planned, the company will already have done much (75%) of the way to demonstrate that its fleet of Falcon missiles is up to the task .

The company is currently the newest flown booster in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 fleet and has wasted no time processing B1059 after returning to Port Canaveral at around 8:00 p.m. EDT. Barely eight hours after landing, the landing leg began to be pulled back. The first sea recovery of B1059 was also the second use of the drone ship. Of course, I have the Octagrabber (OCISLY) upgraded, an armored robot that is used to ensure the safety of the technicians while at the same time securing the Falcon boosters on the high seas from a distance.

The first Astronaut-proven Falcon 9 booster from SpaceX was also the first to use a new recovery strategy with an updated Octagrabber robot. (Richard Angle)

Octagrabber 2.0

It appears that SpaceX is using a new recovery method introduced with the Falcon B1058 booster for the second time earlier this month. With this significant operational optimization, the company no longer has to remove Falcon 9 boosters from the drone ship before it can start pulling its legs back – a process that is barely a year old. With full booster support with an upgraded Octagrabber robot and leg retraction on site, SpaceX can skip a recovery step completely and only lift the rocket when it is ready to be wrapped (horizontally) and loaded onto a transporter.

B1058 broke SpaceX’s booster processing record immediately after the introduction of new and improved methods. (Richard Angle)

Not surprisingly, the first time it was used, SpaceX, thanks to its improved efficiency, was able to process a booster faster than ever before, breaking the previous record of ~ 1.9 days from the arrival of the port to the departure with a horizontal transporter. Now B1059 is well on track to beat B1058’s week-old recovery record. Particularly efficient recovery processing and the unprecedented fast reuse of boosters that it could soon enable will be crucial if SpaceX hopes so maintain In the next few years, a cadence of 3-6 Falcon 9 per month will be started.

Such a cadence is necessary for the appropriate use of the Starlink Internet constellation with 12,000 to 40,000 satellites. With SpaceX, which is guaranteed to demonstrate three Starlink launches in a single month (actually less than three weeks), the company is making rapid progress in the right direction.

B1059 will sail to Port Canaveral on June 16 aboard the OCISLY drone ship. (Richard Angle)

Acceleration through recovery

In fact, at the time of writing, Falcon 9 B1059 had already retracted all four landing legs and was lifted OCISLY off the drone ship, broken over and put on SpaceX’s custom booster transporter less than 10 hours after arriving in port. A step further, SpaceX took an unbelievable 8-9 hours after docking to bring the booster horizontal, and pushed the previous record – ~ 27 hours – by a factor of three or more.

Given this unprecedented expediency, it wouldn’t be crazy to imagine that SpaceX could aim for a record-breaking booster turnaround at one of its next Starlink launches, scheduled for June 22nd and sometime in July. SpaceX’s current turnaround record (the time between launches) held by late booster B1056 is 62 days, while company and CEO Elon Musk’s ultimate reusability goal is to fly the same booster twice in just 24 hours .

Restoring drone ships will of course almost always require at least a few extra days to return to the port. The fact that 99% of the processing required to transport a booster can now be completed in just ~ 8 hours is the first clear evidence that a 24-hour turnaround time is within range of SpaceX – as long as the rocket lands on land or the transit time is excluded.

(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)

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