Shotwell: Still a Couple of Months From Falcon 9 Return to Flight

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said on Monday the company is still a couple of months away from returning the Falcon 9 booster to flight following the launch failure on June 28.

The investigation of the accident is taking longer than originally planned, Shotwell said during a panel discussion at the AIAA Space 2015 Conference in Pasadena. The company is doing a review of its supply chain.

The company has blamed the failure of a strut in the upper stage for the failure, which destroyed a Dragon cargo ship headed for the International Space Station.

The return to flight will feature the first test of the upgraded Falcon 9, which is being tweaked to improve its performance. Shotwell admitted this flight was keeping her up at night.

She said a customer has been identified for the return to flight but would not identify it.

Editor’s Note: I’ve been hearing reliable reports that something more than the strut was the cause of the accident in June. The last I heard, they were still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

  • Hug Doug

    No. A brand-new bastard SpaceX/Orbital-ATK rocket is not necessary. At all. It would take years of design work, and SpaceX wants to return to flight by November.

    SpaceX not have the desire, time, or money to make SRBs – by choice. SRBs are antithetical to their goal of rapid reuse.

    The fix for the Falcon 9 is relatively minor, all they really need to do is replace the struts. The reason it is taking a bit longer is because they are going over every system on the rocket to see if there’s anything else that can be improved, and if so, they may as well do it now rather than later.

  • DTARS

    I wasn’t talking about the BFR/MCT. I was talking about the all purpose reusable work horse that replaces falcon Heavy once they have learned lessons from the falcon 9 family

    Wide core
    Reusable 50 to 100 Times.
    Reusable second stage to Leo
    Would a raptor provide enough kick to make the second stage reusable?
    Guessing you let the payload do the boosting from Leo?
    Maybe 9 raptor engines?

  • mfck

    No, anything is not possible, unless you imply Allah is involved. Would you had to make that “guess” you would discover it involves lots of logic, math and physics. And the REAL fact is that you don’t know what the facts are wrt the rootcause and other outcomes of this investigation.

  • And fantastic boondoggles of black hole money pits with no national value.

  • Hug Doug

    Nine raptor engines would make for a rocket that produces about the same amount of thrust as the Falcon Heavy (coincidentally, this is about as much combined thrust as the two SRBs on the SLS). I’d guess it would also be wider, but about the same height as the current Falcon 9 / Heavy rocket.

    The biggest problem with 2nd stage reuse is the problem of re-entry from orbit, and the “kick” from the first stage doesn’t have anything to do with that.

  • TimR

    Hug Doug is right but overlooks what the solution is for SpaceX. The next generation of launch vehicles using the Raptor engine will provide SpaceX redundancy, a backup – Falcon 9 & Heavy. In the mean time, they will continue living dangerously with the risk of another failure. They need another string of 20 and more like 40 successful launches to get them to the first launch of Raptor engines.

    It is an interesting thought that maybe they could buy some other rocket engine or whole LV and imagine them retrofitting their landing software to the avionics of the 1st stage. Ain’t going to happen. The only engine that matches up performance wise is the RD-171 as fashioned as the Zenit LV. Another American launch provider using Russian engines as stopgap measures – no way!

  • patb2009

    If the root cause hasn’t been found, they could lose another one

  • windbourne

    I am not sure, but I THINK that BFR IS the next one after FH.

  • DTARS

    I agree, but I wonder after trying to managerecovering three falcon nine booster at once.
    And the added engine life a raptor should have, less coking problems.
    Plus a larger diameter core.
    Falcon heavy may not look that good in a short while.

    Where will SpaceX build thaBFR cores that can’t be transported on the highway anyway?
    California Texas or forida

  • patb2009

    I am sure the team at SpaceX will get back to flight, the issue is that its’ a loss of revenue in excess of $100 Million to lose a CRS flight and at this point it’s the loss of booked revenue of 6 months which is several hundred million.

    That’s got to be hard seeing the cash burn and needing to return to flight to get revenue.

  • TimR

    Yeah. The way Musk responded to 2nd reuse Qs, I doubt if they will ever return second stages.

  • Hug Doug

    There certainly are very difficult engineering challenges involved. I’m sure they have given up reusing the Falcon 2nd stage, but maybe not yet for the next generation Raptor based rockets.

  • duheagle

    Sadly, no.