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SpaceX Wants to Dramatically Accelerate Its Launch Frequency

By Daniel Sparks – Feb 7, 2016 at 11:45AM

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The private U.S. space company's manifest for 2016 highlights SpaceX's aggressive ambitions.

For private U.S.-based rocket company SpaceX, 2016 will be a year of transformation. Beyond attempting to achieve a 70% rocket landing success rate for its Falcon 9 during the year, the company will be ramping up production ahead of an aggressive manifest. And, if all goes as planned, the company will achieve a launch rate of once every two to three weeks, according to a recent comment from SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

SpaceX Falcon 9 after returning from space and successfully landing on the ground. Image source: SpaceX.

Ramping up
"We've had the luxury in years past of having to build only a few rockets a year," Shotwell said at the Federal Aviation Administration's annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference (via SpaceNews), "so we really weren't in a production mode."

But the pace at SpaceX is much different these days:

Now we're in this factory transformation to go from building six or eight a year to about 18 cores a year. By the end of this year we should be at over 30 cores per year. So you see the factory start to morph.

Shotwell said after SpaceX's upcoming Feburary or March launch at Cape Canaveral, Fla., for SES-9, the company should achieve a flight rate of one launch "every two to three weeks."

"We're busy. We've got a big manifest, a lot of customers to take care of," Shotwell said.

Shotwell also explained that SpaceX would have tried to achieve this high rate of launches during 2015 had it not faced a failure in June, when its Falcon 9 blew up during flight.

The company's manifest currently shows 46 missions, without any dates specified. The majority of these missions will use the Falcon 9 rocket, but six missions have booked the SpaceX's yet-to-be-flown Falcon Heavy, which will be the world's most powerful operational rocket by a factor of two once it launches.

Next up: Falcon Heavy
Beyond ramping up production of its Falcon 9 at the company's factory, SpaceX is increasingly focused on preparing its Falcon Heavy. The more powerful rocket is slated for its first launch during 2016.

Falcon Heavy. Image source: SpaceX.

While the Falcon Heavy is a new vehicle, its technology will be familiar and -- in a way -- already tested. As the company's website explains, the "Falcon Heavy draws upon the proven heritage and reliability of Falcon 9. Its first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 4.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff."

A successful launch of the Falcon Heavy would represent an important milestone for the SpaceX, as Falcon Heavy was designed from the ground up purposed to "carry humans into space and restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars," according to SpaceX.

SpaceX accelerated manifest and its planned Falcon Heavy attempt are rising the stakes for the company considerably. Aiming for both a high frequency of launches and the debut of a groundbreaking new rocket, success would prove SpaceX's model is a game-changer. On the other hand, more launches and more innovation means there are more opportunities for failure to strike.

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