CAPE CANAVERAL — The manner in which Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) handles its operations is all about reducing cost while maintaining efficiency. A large part of this is displayed in the use of horizontal as opposed to vertical integration. This however is just one of many technical innovations that the company employs at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The Falcon 9 rocket rests on two dollies that have wheels that allow for the Falcon 9 rocket to be rotated around much in the same manner as a rotisserie chicken. Moreover, the entire rocket can be moved without electrical power — with as little as four people required to move it.
If something where to fall (and in many cases has fallen) from the upper decks of Launch Complex 39A (the space shuttle launch pad) damage can and has occurred to the vehicle being serviced on the pad. The likelihood of that happening at SLC 40 — is highly unlikely. If a tool was to fall — it would fall at maximum approximately 15 feet — as opposed to potentially hundreds of feet at LC39A or other vertical integration-based structures in the surrounding area.
The Liquid Oxygen (LOX) tank is another example of the company’s ability to cut cost. The tank was purchased for one dollar over the cost of scrap value. But the efficiency doesn’t stop there. It turned out that the flame trench needed to reduce the risk of damage to the rocket due to acoustic vibration was too short. One estimate from a traditional source put the cost to refurbish the site in the millions of dollars. SpaceX consulted a young engineer who created a more efficient method — for $65,000.
The more one spends out at SLC 40, the more one can tell that the firm is working to reinvent the manner in which rockets are sent into orbit. SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, pushes his workers to do it better, faster and at less cost than traditional methods.
“We’ve been tasked by Elon to get the Falcon 9 out of the hangar and ready to launch within an hour,” said SpaceX’s Vice-President of Communications Bobby Block. “We’re not there yet — but we’re working on it.”
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