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SpaceX extends reuse of Falcon 9 boosters

May 18, 2023

SpaceX regularly reuses its Falcon 9 booster rockets. Reuse levels of eight or 10 time are now fairly routine. Indeed, some boosters have now flow 13 to 15 times. William Gerstenmaier, VP/Build & Flight Reusability at SpaceX, now says that booster refurbishing is taking place to extend the life of a typical booster to a 20-flight schedule.

In the past, SpaceX boss Elon Musk has said his aim was to see the boosters reused up to 100 times.

Gerstenmaier was formerly with NASA as its chief of human spaceflight. He joined SpaceX in February 2020.

In a press briefing ahead of SpaceX’s upcoming Ax-2 mission (for Axion Space, and which is a privately-funded trip to the International Space Station due to launch on May 21st) Gerstenmaier told journalists that SpaceX is in the process of certifying Falcon 9 boosters for up to 20 flights on its own Starlink broadband satellite missions.

Gerstenmaier added that Falcon 9 rockets for future crew missions, such as the Ax-2, will have ability to land boosters back at the launch site. They previously had to land on a drone ship after launching crew missions.

Bringing the boosters back to a land instead of the costs associated with landing on a barge is an obvious money-saver. But extending the reuse life of a Falcon 9 booster to up to 20 launches is a significant saving on costs, and allows SpaceX to amortise the production cost of each Falcon 9 booster.

The Ax-2 mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than 5:37pm EDT on May 21st from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Flying to the space station will be two members of Saudi Arabia’s first astronaut class, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni. Barnawi will become the first Saudi woman in space.

The costs of a non-human Falcon 9 mission is quoted by SpaceX as being 8 per cent more expensive this year over 2022. A Falcon 9 launch now costs $67 million, up from $62 million over recent years, and a Falcon Heavy launch will now run $97 million, up from $90 million.

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