SpaceX has already made spaceflight shorty many times, but it’s skipping today’s record-setting launch. The company had been scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 64 small satellites into orbit (known as SSO-A), but that wasn’t the historic part. It would have been the third launch for this particular rocket, a feat never before attempted. In the end, SpaceX decided it needed more time to prepare.
SpaceX has had the ability to launch and land the Falcon 9’s first stage for several years, but it didn’t start re-flying them right away. In fact, SpaceX decided to keep the first successfully recovered rocket as a trophy. It’s not just SpaceX being prideful, though. Elon Musk’s spaceflight firm also needed to do extensive engineering checks on the first recovered vehicles to make sure they were fit to fly again.
Today, reusing Falcon 9 first stages for a second launch is commonplace. It reused one of its rockets for the first time in 2017, but the SSO-A launch would have been the first time one of those boosters went up for the third time. This is essential to SpaceX’s plans to slash the cost of reaching orbit. With expendable rockets, you need to manufacture a new one for every launch. SpaceX has perfected two flights per rocket, but costs will go down much more if it can keep flying the vehicles indefinitely.
The booster that was supposed to go up today launched first in May of this year to deposit the Bangabandhu-1 communications satellite in orbit. Just a few months later in August, SpaceX used the same first stage to get the Indonesian Merah Putih satellite telecom satellite to space.
SpaceX didn’t provide a full explanation of its decision to cancel the SSO-A launch. On Twitter, the company said the delay would allow “additional pre-flight inspections.” There may be concerns that two launches have deleterious effects on the rockets that are difficult to detect. The last thing SpaceX wants it to see its first three-use rocket go up in flames. The tweet goes on to say that we’ll get a revised launch date when the checks are completed.
While the Falcon 9 is SpaceX’s current money maker, it intends to move all launch operations to the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) in the future. This reusable rocket is larger and more expensive to manufacture, so SpaceX definitely wants to use each one more than twice.
Now read: SpaceX Launches Previously Flown Falcon 9 and Dragon Capsule, SpaceX Successfully Launches, Lands Second Reused Rocket, and SpaceX will attempt to land a Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform (Updated)
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