Elon Musk describing upgrades to the ship that could allow Dragons to fly up to 10 times without significant refurbishment
Musk doesn’t want SpaceX to simply become an orbital taxi service, however. His dreams are far grander: to transform the way in which space exploration is conducted, opening up the final frontier to widespread and affordable use. Musk’s vision doesn’t end in Earth orbit but rather stretches all the way to the frozen deserts of Mars.
The key is reusability. Musk said the crewed Dragon is designed to land softly back on Earth and be rapidly turned around for another flight — possibly on the same day.
“The reason that this is really important is that, apart from the convenience of the landing location, is that it enables rapid reusability of the spacecraft,” Musk said. Just reload the propellants and fly it again. This is extremely important for revolutionizing access to space, because as long as we continue to throw away rockets and spacecraft, we will never have true access to space; it will always be incredibly expensive,” he added. “You can imagine a scenario where … if an aircraft was thrown away after each flight, nobody would be able to afford to fly. Or very few, only a small number of government customers. The same is true with rockets and spacecraft.” If SpaceX’s engineers can pull it off, the crewed Dragon will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket that’s also fully reusable. This past April, the first stage of a Falcon 9 maneuvered to a soft “landing” on the ocean, refiring its engines and extending four landing legs before hitting the water intact.
SpaceX’s goal is to to recover a Falcon 9 first stage with a touchdown on land by the end of the year. The company would then re-launch the stage next year on a demonstration flight. The company’s engineers are also working on the more difficult problem of trying to recover the Falcon 9’s second stage, which reaches a much higher altitude.
Musk predicted that instead of flying into space a handful of times per year as we do now, humans would eventually be able to fly to space multiples times per day. “I think 20 years for thousands of flights,” Musk said in response to a question about increasing annual launch rates. “And I think we could probably get to the hundreds-of-flights level in 12 to 15 years.”
Reusability Cost Analysis – Spacex could soon have a reusable first stage and Dragon stage
Here are the estimated costs for one use and partially reusable and more reusable Spacex rockets. One use Falcon 9 rocket launch cost $1,862/lb One use Falcon Heavy launch cost $1000/lb The above costs are from Wikipedia and the Spacex website.
First stage reusable Falcon 9 launch cost $1200/lb First stage reusable Falcon Heavy launch cost $600/lb The cost of fuel and the Spacex rockets has been repeated a few times.
Musk reiterated the origin of the SpaceX production model, saying fuel is only 0.3 percent of the total cost of a rocket, with construction materials accounting for no more than 2 percent of the total cost, which for the Falcon 9 is about $60 million. Musk said that a rocket’s first stage accounts for three-quarters of its total price tag, so a vehicle with a reusable first stage can be produced at far less cost — assuming the hardware is fully and rapidly reusable.
A reusable rocket stage would be able to launch about 80% of the cargo of a one use rocket. The weight of fuel is needed to fly the stage back and the extra weight of landing legs and other modifications for reuse have to be carried.
Two launches with second reusing the first stage.
Capital cost – 1.25 times the cost of one full rocket. 0.6% for fuel
Launch cargo 1.6 times the cargo of one rocket.
78% of the cost of a single use rocket
Three launches with reuse of the first stage twice.
Capital cost – 1.5 times the cost of one rocket
0.9% for fuel
Launch cargo 2.4 times the cargo of one rocket
62.5% of the cost of a single use rocket
50% of the cost with five launches and four reuses of the first stage [$930 per pound for the 9 v1.1 and $500 per pound for the heavy]
Reusable first stage falcon heavy [with about twenty reuses] can get down to about $350/lb [one third the one use price].
Reusable (about fifteen times) Falcon 9 rocket launch cost all stages reusable $100/lb [all three stages of a falcon heavy, should get to about ten times cheaper]
Having three reusable stages that can be used ten times before refurbishment would get costs to about $150glb for a Falcon Heavy.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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