SpaceX completed another ‘double’ success in the early hours of August 14th, launching a satellite and then landing the rocket’s 1st stage. This brought the total of SpaceX launches (for commercial satellites operators and NASA cargo trips) to the International Space Station to eight since January 1st.
By comparison, Arianespace has launched just 3 of its Ariane-5 rockets (although a total of 4 satellites) and is scheduling 12 launch missions this year, with a pair of Intelsat satellites due for lift-off on August 24th. However, part of that 12-mission schedule includes the smaller Soyuz and Vega rockets.
But SpaceX has a problem. Despite the undoubted success of eight launches, it has a very crowded manifest from now to the end of the year. At least nine missions are in the schedule, and while at the beginning of the year SpaceX happily talked of 18 launches during 2016, and at least one use of its Falcon 9-Heavy multi-purpose rocket which is seemingly proving much more difficult than initially anticipated.
SpaceX’s president Gwynn Shotwell, speaking on August 9th, was candid and apologised to loyal customers who are seeing their launch dates slip on Falcon 9-Heavy rockets. “I’m president [of the company]: There’s three [Falcon 9 ‘basic’] rockets. You glue them together. How hard is that? Well, according to my team, it’s really hard.”