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SpaceX: “We can boost launch capacity”

March 21, 2023

SpaceX, already the world’s busiest supplier of rocket launch capacity, says it can do more and could increase its launch frequency.

A series of expert panels at the recent Satellite 2023 event in Washington, DC, talked about anticipated shortages in launch capacity especially in the 2024-2027 time frame.

The decision by the Jeff Bezos-backed Project Kuiper broadband-by-satellite scheme to reserve 92 heavy-lift rocket launches from Arianespace, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its own Blue Origin rockets suggests that other scientific, military and commercial customers will be denied access to space.

Tony Bruno, CEO at ULA, told delegates that there was now, for the first time in 30 years, a global shortage of launch capacity. That shortage, he added, as well as the growth in demand from mega-constellations was also impacted by the suspension of Russian rockets from the commercial launch market after the invasion of Ukraine. “Now we’re in a state of shortage that’s going to last about a decade,” he stated.

ULA is just weeks away from its debut flight of its giant Vulcan Centaur rocket. Bruno added that a successful first flight would then be followed by a second flight a few months later. “Then, after that, we’ll ramp up to eventually flying every two weeks.”

Arianespace’s CEO Stéphane Israël was also on the panel, but admitted that there were still risks for its new Ariane 6 rocket. He hoped that it would make its first flight by the end of 2023, but there were some risks and obstacles still to be overcome.

However, also suffering delays is the Jeff Bezos Blue Origin system, and in particular the powerful New Glenn variant. Ariane Cornell, VP/commercial orbital, astronaut and international sales at Blue Origin, stated that progress was being made but firmly declined to give any sort of date for the debut launch.

Meanwhile, SpaceX seems to go from strength to strength. SpaceX has lofted 19 launches to date this year and is anticipating a n overall manifest of 100 launches during 2023 (up from 61 last year, and 31 in 2022).

Tom Ochinero, SVP/commercial business at SpaceX, said that the company’s three active launch pads (two in Florida and another at Vandenberg in California) meant that its proven rapid launch cadence and extremely successful reusability of its boosters meant that even a 200/per year launch rate was possible.

“In terms of scaling from 100 to 200 launches, we have the hardware, and the infrastructure, we can scale the staffing,” he stressed. “There isn’t any reason we can’t keep going. It’s just a matter of market needs and how fast Starship develops.”

Ochinero reminded delegates that some of those Falcon 9 boosters had now flown 15 missions and that 10 mission usage was quite normal. “We will incrementally increase the number of launches if market conditions require it,” he added.

Ochinero also said that the impending launch of SpaceX’s massive Starship was now very close, and in essence was now awaiting the FAA’s permission to launch.

There is also certain launch capacity available from India, Japan and – for some – China. Smaller rocket launch capacity is also available from almost a dozen additional suppliers.



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