Is SpaceX’s 2015 launch manifest realistic?
Looking at the 2015 flight calendar for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) shows a lot of activity for the year. The SpaceX launch manifest show no fewer than 15 launches on their docket. Included in the mix is a collection of never before attempted (for SpaceX anyway) orbits as well as the debut of the Falcon 9 Heavy launch vehicle. It is a lot of flights, in some cases barely two weeks separate flights. It marks an aggressive schedule but it is a realistic one?
Launch site preparation cannot begin until the previous rocket has left the pad. In the case of SpX-5, the delay from December to January meant the site crew could not start preparations for launch until Jan. 10. The company’s next launch is currently scheduled to take place 19 days later on Jan. 29 (NASA’s DSCVR mission).
The launch team will be very busy getting everything ready for the next launch. And this is by no means the shortest time frame the site crew will have to work with. The prep window between the launch of the DSCVR mission and the Feb. 17 launch of a Falcon 9 v1.1, carrying an Asia Broadcast satellite (ABS 3A, Eutelsat 115 West B), will be complicated by the February (to be determined) launch date for the TürkmenÄlem satellite. If SpaceX chooses to fly the Turkmeni mission between those two, the best case scenario puts launch site preparations at just 9 days.
In the case of missions to the International Space Station (ISS ), the launch time is calculated down to the second to preserve as much fuel as possible for rendezvous with the orbiting laboratory. This is what is known as an instantaneous launch (technically, SpaceX has one second to get the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 booster off the pad and into the sky).
When SpaceX has a delay to the countdown on these types of flights? It results in a scrub and they have to recycle the attempt for another day and time.
In the case of a more typical launch window, SpaceX can reset and launch again, sometimes within minutes (SpaceX has shown an aptitude for , should it be a simple issue on the launch pad. SpaceX has far more many launch windows with this sort of freedom scheduled for 2015. The aforementioned February launches fall into this latter category. That will give SpaceX a little breathing room for launch site issues that will pop up.
Overall, the question still remains: is this a realistic launch schedule? In 2014, SpaceX had six launches for the year (the ISS mission CRS-5 slipped into 2015), which marked a dramatic uptick in the amount of launches that the Hawthorne, California-based company has demonstrated they are capable of carrying out. Even with this increase, SpaceX, on average, has only demonstrated the capability of launching at the rate of 2.3 times a year.
SpaceX also has four missions that will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E, located in California. To date, SpaceX has only carried out one mission from its VAFB facilities, the Sept. 29, 2013 flight of the CASSIOPE mission on behalf of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.
This new calendar has more than doubled the number of flights that SpaceX carried out in the past year. SpaceFlight Insider’s launch calendar has as many as 17 missions possible for the coming year. SpaceX has demonstrated the capability of carrying out approximately one-third to about half of the missions that appear on its initial launch manifest. Part of the potential cause for the lack of completing the full manifest – is the fact that the company is working to have a good portion of the Falcon 9 family of boosters be reusable.
This past week, on Jan. 10, SpaceX attempted to further this effort by having the first stage of the F9 booster that sent a SpX-5 Dragon spacecraft on its way to the space station – land on an automated drone ship placed 200 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. Although the landing was not successful, the company came close to carrying out this feat – an effort highlighted by SpaceX’s CEO and Founder, Elon Musk during his tweets.
“Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho…Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”
SpaceX has made a name for itself by attempting to lower the cost of sending payloads to orbit – and developing innovative ways in which this is conducted.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.