Can SpaceX Launch The Falcon In a Day?
Except for Elon Musk, you encounter few people today that are as productive as the modern day Iron Man. With SpaceX, Tesla, and Paypal under his command; he is a force to be reckoned with.
Which sparked my interest last Friday when he announced in a teleconference that he intends to relaunch a Falcon rocket within a day of landing.
At first I was skeptical. I’m still waiting for him to turn-around the financial disaster of Tesla. However we should still ask what that would take?
For the moment let’s assume that a Falcon just touched down at Landing Zone 1 or 2 in Florida. The high velocities of geostationary transfer orbits that necessitate ocean barge landings are out because returning the stage to land takes days.
Let’s break down the times. These are educated guesses of course, and I can’t independently verify the SpaceX’s statistics.
Sources on Quora state that a typical refurbishment can be accomplished in about two weeks. In that time the booster is completely cleaned and inspected. It might also be necessary to rebuild the engines and heat shield at the base of the booster. Some experts claim that the engines are unchanged between flights, but I’m not a believer in that. NASA has been anxious about the health of their turbopump blades for years.
At the moment it is my belief that even SpaceX is in the dark about the complexities of reuse. The previous series of Block 4 boosters only flew twice before impacting the ocean, and surely each one was heavily rebuilt in between. Using SpaceX’s own statistics their best is 134 days between the Zuma and the NEXT 6 flight.
The story for the Block 5 is still waiting to be told.
What if I’m wrong and the Block 5 can be immediately relit after landing?
You still need to attach the satellite to the second stage, and the fairing too. Since this is typically accomplished in a cleanroom, this must take at least a day. It could possibly take longer for specialized payloads or at the customer request.
At this place in the story I don’t anticipate a reflight in a day. It is simply impossible to reassemble a booster in that amount of time.
But what if SpaceX can cheat?
The satellite, fairing, and second stage can all be built days ahead of time. The Dragon capsule can be attached much more quickly because you don’t need a fairing or cleanroom.
They would still need a quick mating ritual for the stages. SpaceX considered this when they first built the booster. Pneumatic pistons push apart the stages in flight and deploy the landing legs.
You still have to rollout the booster and launch it. SpaceX will have to deduct ten hours from the equation.
Did I miss anything?