Elon Musk’s SpaceX program plans to break another important barrier in private space flight Tuesday with the re-launch of a previously-used Block 5 booster just three months after its initial flight.
In conjunction with the re-launch, SpaceX announced plans to shorten re-launch times for the Block 5 booster to less than 24 hours by 2019, which would further solidify SpaceX’s dominance of the private space flight market — dominance that has already pushed Russian competitors completely out of the market and now threatens to lap the technology of the last remnants of Chinese competition.
What’s the story?
Private space flight companies have been involved in a technological arms race for years on a number of different fronts. One of the most important fronts is the development of an inexpensive reusable rocket booster system that can be used to launch satelites and manned craft into space. SpaceX’s previous offering, the Falcon 9 booster, could be reused twice and cost $60 million to launch.
Musk claims that the new Block 5 booster can be used for up to 100 launches with “moderate” refurbishment work, and costs only $50 million to launch. That price point would make SpaceX even cheaper than its last remaining competition for commercial space launches, which comes from Chinese firms.
Furthermore, while SpaceX’s competitors have focused only on recovery of the first stage launcher, SpaceX has set a target date of 2022 for development a fully recoverable 150-ton payload rocket (including second stage), which would place them several years ahead of Chinese firms, if they are successful.
Musk, of course, is not the only big name in tech who is attempting to make a name for himself in space flight.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos launched his own private space flight startup called Blue Origin in 2000, which is also focused on developing more efficient reusable rocket parts. Blue Origin is working on development of a new heavy launch rocket called the New Glenn, which is slated for its first flight in 2020.