Last week, SpaceX made its safe return to the skies and back after the explosive Falcon 9 event from earlier last year. And the private space company is now readying itself to get back to a regular flight schedule, starting this January 30. But it still doesn’t plan to completely rely on the reusability of one of its Falcon 9 launch vehicles just yet. They are willing to lose one last Falcon 9 booster and have already said that this mission would indeed be expendable.
As per a tweet sent out by CEO Elon Musk, the Falcon 9 that’ll deliver the EchoStar satellite to the orbit should most likely be SpaceX’s last expendable rocket. The company is ready to sacrifice their one last rocket to deliver this satellite and its hefty 550 kg payload along with it. The Falcon 9 rocket being used in this mission will consume too much fuel due to the heavy lifting and might have some left to make a low-margin drone landing.
@gdoehne Expendable. Future flights will go on Falcon Heavy or the upgraded Falcon 9.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 21, 2017
The EchoStar Satellite being sent out in this launch, as soon as January 30, is definitely a heavy one for the Falcon 9. The company will take off from a new pad at Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral. It will be SpaceX’s first return to this location after the previous explosion. It will have to travel more than 40,000 kilometers to deliver the satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit. The Falcon 9 will attempt a difficult landing on the drone ship floating in the Pacific Ocean after that. SpaceX is, however, ready to compromise this rocket.
After this launch, the company plans to phase out the previous iteration of the Falcon 9 in favor of new heavy duty ones. SpaceX is looking to bring in the new high-performance Falcon 9 (Block 5) variants or Falcon Heavy rockets (with three Falcon 9 cores) for future launches. These rockets will easily be able to carry more fuel, payload and return back to Earth without any constraints and hiccups. This will enable the company to finally materialize its vision of reusability.
Till date, SpaceX has not reused any of its Falcon 9 rocket boosters in a space delivery mission. But with the arsenal of new rocket booster, it is looking to expedite its efforts and achieve reusability by the end of 2017. The company’s arch-nemesis Blue Origin, led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has already re-used its rockets more than a few times and returned back safely with each attempt. SpaceX is, however, planning to give them a tough fight sooner than one can expect.