Don’t expect deep discounts on preflown SpaceX boosters

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, California – SpaceX customers should not expect deep discounts when they opt to launch satellites on previously flown boosters instead of new ones, at least not initially, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability for Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX.

Although SpaceX intends to decrease launch costs over time, it will not immediately offer significant discounts on preflown boosters while it recovers its investment in the technology it is developing to make rockets reusable, including its “navy” of drone ships and telemetry boats, Koenigsmann said Feb. 6 at the Small Satellite Symposium here.

Plus, there may be no reason to offer steep discounts on rockets with previously flown boosters because  “I’m not sure that booster has any wear and tear on it that makes it worse,” Koenigsmann said.

Previously flown boosters may prove to be more reliable than new ones, Koenigsmann said. SpaceX designs each rocket for multiple flights and the company has established a comprehensive process for inspecting the boosters it recovers. In addition, if a rocket has flown successfully once that means it was built correctly in the first place, Koenigsmann said.

SpaceX has recovered 24 boosters including twelve on ships, eleven on land and one in the water. On Jan. 31, SpaceX recovered the booster used to launch the Luxembourg government’s GovSat-1 even though the booster landed in the water instead of on a drone ship.

SpaceX has reflown eight boosters, beginning in March 2017 with the launch of the SES-10 telecommunication satellite. On Feb 6, SpaceX included two previously flown Falcon 9 boosters on the first launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket.

SpaceX engineers are learning how to make Falcon 9 boosters more reliable by inspecting the ones they recover. SpaceX also is using that knowledge to improve Falcon 9’s second stage where it shares hardware with the booster.

“Reusability improves this booster tremendously,” Koenigsmann said.