Jun 26, 2017

SpaceX Just Transformed Space Flight, Launching Two Rockets in 48 Hours

A historic weekend "doubleheader" for Elon Musk ended Sunday afternoon after SpaceX launched two payloads into space within 48 hours of each other. The initial launch was also a first for the country of Bulgaria, which launched a telecommunications satellite.

REUSABLE ROCKETS

Elon Musk's SpaceX took a scheduling delay and turned it into a historic opportunity: as the result of postponing the launch of a Bulgarian satellite from Monday to Friday of last week, SpaceX had two Falcon 9 rocket launches within 48 hours of each other. Friday's BulgariaSat-1 launch happened from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The second one — carrying a payload of 10 new satellites from Virginia-based telecommunications company Iridium — lifted off Sunday afternoon from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Elon Musk on Twitter: "Launch at 1:25 delivering 10 satellites for Iridium. Droneship repositioned due to extreme weather. Will be tight."

The two back-to-back launches — a first for SpaceX — were made possible by its reusable rocket technology. Friday's BulagariaSat-1 launch was only the second time the space venture company successfully reused a rocket booster, while Sunday's marked the third. In a series of tweets after the launch, Musk seemed pleased with how far the reusable tech has come.

Elon Musk on Twitter: "New titanium grid fins worked even better than expected. Should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service."

That being said, it could still be refined even more. As he explained in his answer to a Twitter user's suggestion, he'd like to see the rocket turnaround be so quick there isn't even time enough to touch up the paint job.

Amir on Twitter: "I think you should launch one of the reused first stages without repainting it if it's technically possible of course, it would be cool!"

Elon Musk on Twitter: "Down the road, they will not even be repainted between launches. Aiming to be able to relaunch same orbital rocket booster in <24 hours."

Apart from being weekend of firsts for SpaceX, it was also the first time Bulgaria launched a telecommunications satellite. For Iridium, today's payload was the second batch of its planned 70-satellite constellation, which is part of its NEXT mobile communications network. The first 10 of these low-orbit satellites were launched in January.

NEXT STOP: MARS?

This weekend's "doubleheader" was a confidence boost for the reusable rocket technology. Among other things, Musk hopes the tech will help lower the overall the cost of going to space. He previously highlighted that launching satellites aboard SpaceX's reusable rockets is $300 million cheaper than conventional one-way-trip rockets.

Even before this weekend's successes, interest in the reusable rocket tech has been steadily growing: to date, SpaceX has booked more than 50 missions — including one from aerospace giant Airbus. Most are scheduled for this year or into 2018. There are a number launches both from private corporations like Iridium, as well as from government agencies, similar to Bulgaria's arrangement.

Perfecting its reusable rocket technology isn't just going to benefit SpaceX in the short term. It's most exciting potential application could actually be in the bigger rockets that could start ferrying human beings to Mars sometime in the 2030s.


Futurism

by Dom Galeon and Abby Norman