SpaceX sends 2 hundredth Falcon second stage, highlighting draw back of launch automobile reuse
SpaceX has constructed and delivered its 2 hundredth Falcon second stage, highlighting the rocket’s usually underappreciated document of accomplishment on the bottom and in flight.
About 13 years in the past, in late 2009 or early 2010, SpaceX launched the primary flyable prototype of the primary iteration of the second stage of the Falcon 9. In June 2010, the Falcon 9 launched on its first take a look at flight and, with this second stage, efficiently launched a prototype spacecraft mockup into orbit. of the Dragon ship. After the shock inaugural success of the Falcon 9, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets had been launched 187 extra instances, for a complete of 188 launches and 189 assembled rockets. Every of those launches required a brand new second stage, and all however one (the Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort take a look at) required a brand new Merlin Vacuum engine.
Whereas SpaceX is greatest identified for its profitable implementation of reusable, rapid-use Falcon boosters, the corporate’s total success can be inextricably linked to Falcon second phases, that are expendable and can all the time be expendable after every launch. For each spectacular touchdown or document reuse of a Falcon launch automobile, the second stage of the Falcon both unceremoniously burns up within the Earth’s ambiance or results in orbit. In consequence, regardless that SpaceX’s multi-use functionality allowed it to launch greater than ever earlier than with a fleet of simply 10-20 Falcon launch autos, the corporate needed to ramp up manufacturing of the Falcon’s extraordinary second phases.
SpaceX simply accomplished its 188th Falcon 9/Heavy launch, so the 2 hundredth flyable second stage and Merlin Vacuum (MVac) engine is probably going scheduled for January 2023. Over the previous three hundred and sixty five days, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have accomplished 59 profitable orbital launches. Every launch required a brand new second stage, so on common SpaceX persistently constructed, shipped, and examined a brand new Falcon second stage each 6.2 days for extra than a 12 months.
Because of SpaceX’s document launch frequency in 2022, which has resulted in additional Falcon 9 launches per calendar 12 months than some other rocket in historical past, the Falcon second stage is more likely to be the most-produced orbital rocket stage in a long time. Barring any surprises, SpaceX is on monitor to fulfill CEO Elon Musk’s aim of 60 Falcon launches by 2022. However SpaceX is not finished but, with CEO Elon Musk saying the corporate plans “as much as 100 launches” in 2023. After almost doubling the quantity between early and late 2021, that might require an extra ~67% improve in Falcon second stage manufacturing in comparison with final 12 months.
Throughout its 12.5-year profession, the Falcon 9 suffered three failures. In October 2012, throughout the third launch, one of many 9 Falcon 9 Merlin 1C booster engines failed in flight. The primary mission – the Dragon cargo mission to the Worldwide House Station – was saved by the second stage, which autonomously compensated for the misplaced efficiency, however the secondary payload (the primary prototype OG2 Orbcomm satellite tv for pc) was misplaced consequently. In June 2015, a defective strut contained in the Falcon 9’s second stage brought on a helium strain vessel to flee and rupture, destroying the rocket in flight. And in September 2016, throughout a pre-launch static hearth take a look at, an analogous strain vessel within the Falcon 9’s upgraded second stage ignited spontaneously, inflicting an explosion that destroyed the rocket whereas it was nonetheless on the bottom.
In consequence, whereas issues with the Falcon’s second phases technically brought on the Falcon 9’s solely catastrophic failures, it stays true that the free-flying Falcon’s second stage has by no means failed in flight. The identical is true for the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine: in lots of of burns and over 70,000 seconds of operation, the MVac has by no means as soon as didn’t fly.
Following the profitable launch of the Eutelsat Hotbird 13G Falcon 9 communications satellite tv for pc on November 3, 2022, SpaceX’s Falcon household of rockets has accomplished 160 launches with out failure, probably making it essentially the most dependable household of rockets in historical past. To realize this success with the partially reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, SpaceX needed to grasp reusable rockets and single-use orbital rockets to the purpose that solely a handful of different corporations or house companies in historical past can declare to have matched or surpassed them, and that nobody has achieved on the similar time.
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