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Why does SpaceX want to reuse it's first stages?

asked 2016-05-06 09:03:12 -0600

Pascal Le Dramont gravatar image

Other companies such as United launch Alliance (ULA) don't think it's economical to re-use the first stage since it requires large amounts of propellant to do so. Why does Space X think it is worth doing?

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answered 2016-09-04 17:32:44 -0600

patb gravatar image

There are two good reasons to recover stages.

1) Your knowledge of how the stage performs is limited to what the telemetry tells you. So anomalous hotspots, cracks, etc, are not necessarily well understood. Getting the stage back lets the engineers really verify loads, heating, reliability. Taking black boxes off the bird and retesting them tells you how well the solder joints are working for instance.

2) The parts are expensive. Even if you never refly it, you can use those parts for ground test equipment.

Now that said...

SpaceX hopes this will increase reliability, see 1 and bear in mind every rocket currently it's first flight is the last. They also think it will reduce cost.

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answered 2016-05-06 09:10:42 -0600

Rob Mueller gravatar image

updated 2016-08-28 01:08:25 -0600

A jumbo jet costs about the same as a Falcon 9 rocket, but airlines don't junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York. Yet when it comes to space travel, rockets fly only once—even though the rocket itself represents the majority of launch cost Source:

Space X wants to reduce the cost of launching payloads by a factor of 100X. By reusing the first stage a lot of costs can be saved, but it will depend on whether the first stage components can be re-certified for another flight and if the systems are robust enough to handle the high loads and vibrations of launches and landings. The Space X president and founder, Elon Musk, maintains that propellant is cheap so it is cost effective compared to throwing away expensive hardware.

While conventional thinking dictates that it is too expensive to carry extra propellant for the landing, Space X has found a way to maintain performance and still have enough propellant left for landing on a barge in the ocean. Landing at Cape Canaveral requires too much propellant on some high altitude orbit missions - so the barge must be used.

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Asked: 2016-05-06 09:03:12 -0600

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Last updated: Sep 04 '16