COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell isn’t satisfied with last week’s history-making relaunch and landing of a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket.
The way she sees it, rocket reusability doesn’t really count unless the rocket can be reused “almost as rapidly as you turn around an aircraft.”
“Our challenge right now is to refly a rocket within 24 hours,” she said here today at the 33rd Space Symposium. “That’s when we’ll really feel like we got the reusability just right.”
Last week’s launch featured the first-ever reuse of an orbital-class rocket booster, to launch the SES-10 telecommunications satellite into orbit. Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has launched and landed the same rocket five times during suborbital test flights, but orbital reuse is considered far more challenging.
It could also be far more lucrative. Shotwell and SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, have said rocket reusability could translate into a savings of 10 to 30 percent on the cost of an orbital launch.
That’s assuming that SpaceX gets the reusability routine down pat. Last week’s first-ever relaunch of a Falcon 9 first-stage booster served as a proof of principle.
Nearly a year elapsed between the first launch, which sent a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station last April, and the second launch to put the SES-10 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. During the intervening months, the booster underwent detailed examination, extensive refurbishment and intensive testing.
Shotwell didn’t specify the exact cost of the refurbishment but said it was “substantially less than half” of the original manufacturing cost.
“We did way more on this one than we’re doing on future ones, of course,” Shotwell said.
She said future launches are also likely to include the recovery of the nose-cone fairing that protects satellites during the rocket’s ascent. Last week, Musk estimated that recovery and reuse of the fairing could trim an extra $6 million off the current list price of $62 million for a Falcon 9 launch.
Shotwell said at least one piece of the fairing was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean after last week’s launch, although she didn’t say whether it was slated for reuse. “It looked pretty good,” she said, “and you’ll see more fairing recoveries as we go this year.”
SpaceX sees rocket reusability as a requirement for making trips to Mars affordable for thousands of settlers within the next decade of so – which is Musk’s overarching goal. Shotwell referred to that angle in her closing remarks.
“I hope you guys buy your ticket to Mars,” she said.