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With the New Florida Site, SpaceX to Hit Fastest Launch Pace

With the New Florida Site, SpaceX to Hit Fastest Launch Pace
The president of Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, said that once a new launch pad is put into service in Florida next week, the company plans to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks, its fastest rate since starting launches in 2010.
It was just five months ago that a SpaceX rocket burst into flames on the launch pad at the company's original launch site in Florida and the claim comes even while memories of that accident are still bright. Since that accident only one rocket has been launched by SpaceX, controlled by billionaire Elon Musk.
"We should be launching every two to three weeks," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in an interview on Monday. The Sept. 1 accident happened during a routine preflight test and SpaceX was approaching that pace last autumn, before the accident. While heavily damaged the launch pad, the explosion destroyed a $200 million Israeli satellite.
"Far less than half" of a new launch pad, which she said runs about $100 million, would be the cost of repairs to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which are still underway, Shotwell said. Just north of the Cape Canaveral site, the new launch pad is at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Shotwell said that to increase performance and resolve potential safety concerns, SpaceX is also modifying the rocket's engines.
To eliminate cracks that have prompted concern from NASA and the U.S. Air Force, the company plans to change the design of the Falcon 9's turbopump - which provides propellants to the rocket's engines.
Starting in late 2018, to taxi astronauts to and from the International Space Station, NASA has hired SpaceX.
Before the first unmanned test flights of the commercial space taxi, scheduled for November, the new turbopumps will be installed, Shotwell said.
In addition to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, SpaceX is one of two companies certified to fly military and national security satellites for the Air Force.
"For us, the concern was not the cracks, but do they grow over time? Would these cracks cause a flight failure?" Shotwell said. "I think NASA is used to engines that aren't quite as robust, so they just don't want any cracks at all in the turbo machinery."
Shotwell said that during ground tests of its Merlin engines in 2015, SpaceX discovered two types of cracks. The cracks were not related to the Sept. 1 launch pad explosion.
Shotwell said that the turbine wheel was redesigned after the company devised a software fix in order to fix the more serious cracking issue. The first of the redesigned turbine wheels flew in July 2016.
Shotwell said that NASA and the Air Force have asked for a redesign, even though a second set of cracks in welds and shrouds are not a concern for flight. Worth more than $10 billion, SpaceX has a backlog of more than 70 missions. Since the Falcon 9's debut in 2010, it has successfully flown 27 out of 29 times.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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