SpaceX’s launch pad rocket explosion in September 2016 was a serious blow to the company’s reputation, but it soon got its project back on track with a faster-than-expected return to flight last month.
Clearly brimming with confidence, and determined as ever to move toward its ultimate goal of deep space exploration using reusable technology, SpaceX is about to ramp up its launch schedule to a level not seen in its seven-year history of rocket launches.
Making full use of its new launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Elon Musk’s space company is keen to undertake missions as often as twice a month. Speaking to Reuters on Monday, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the team hoped to launch “every two to three weeks” from three sites in California and Florida.
Up to now, SpaceX has been helping to ferry supplies to astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and also working with private firms to put a range of satellites into orbit.
Looking ahead, SpaceX has plans to take astronauts to and from the ISS using its Dragon crew capsule. A trial launch of the capsule without crew is slated for the end of 2017, and will include rigorous testing of spacesuits, parachutes, and other related equipment.
After that, SpaceX wants to confirm the capsule’s capabilities with a crewed test flight in May 2018. If the team is happy with it, astronauts could be on their way to the ISS inside inside the SpaceX capsule by the end of next year.
There are still, however, a few creases to iron out before the first unmanned test flight. Shotwell said engineers are working to increase the efficiency of the Falcon 9 rocket engines, and also plan to redesign its turbopumps to prevent potentially dangerous cracks from occurring during future missions.
As noted by Reuters, SpaceX has more than 70 missions worth more than $10 billion lined up for lift-off. It can’t afford another disaster like the one it suffered in September, and it will be keen to get its new, more frequent launch schedule up and running just as soon as it can.
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