SpaceX Launch Pad Repairs Advance as Musk Eyes Fall Falcon Heavy Flight

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

SpaceX expects to have Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral repaired by the end of the summer to resume Falcon 9 launches there, freeing up Pad39A for modifications needed for the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy booster, Spaceflight Now reports.

Pad 40 was damaged last Sept. 1 when a Falcon 9 exploded on the launch pad while being fueled for a pre-flight engine test. Since then, SpaceX has been using Pad 39A, a former space shuttle launch facility that it is leasing from NASA.

The state of Florida is contributing $5 million through Space Florida, an economic development agency focused on the aerospace industry, to help pay for upgrades at pad 40. The money was approved at a Space Florida board meeting June 1 to go toward an improved flame trench and enhanced acoustic suppression capability at pad 40, Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s chief of strategic alliances, wrote in an email to Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX is expected to outfit pad 40 for a higher launch rate once the facility is back in service, using lessons learned at pad 39A, which can support launches in as little as every two weeks in its current configuration.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted last week that all three first-stage core boosters for the Falcon Heavy should be in Florida for processing and assembly within the next two to three months. Falcon Heavy consists of three Falcon 9 first stages and a single-engine second stage.

Musk wrote the Falcon Heavy flight would follow about a month after all the first stage cores arrived in Florida. That would put the maiden launch in the September to October time frame.

But that is likely a best case scenario, assuming preparations to configure pad 39A for the Falcon Heavy go perfectly….

A series of countdown rehearsals are also on tap, and the Falcon Heavy’s 27 main engines will be test-fired at pad 39A before SpaceX clears the rocket for liftoff, providing an opportunity for engineers to tune the launcher and ground systems.

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  • ReSpaceAge

    I be very surprised if falcon Heavy flies before December 2017.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    The only upside I see is they just finished 39A so they have a lot of experience building these things out now. TEL will be a mini version of the one at 39A. But yea need a healthy dose of skepticism on getting 40 repaired on schedule.

  • WhoAmI

    Pleasantly surprised?

  • ReSpaceAge

    Sure, the sooner the better. From what I have read from the time they get 40 done it will likely take like 6 weeks to get it operational, before they can take 39 off line to upgrade for Heavy which takes a while, I hear 2 months. So I’m still guessing December is reality if not even January.
    reguardless when it does fly, my ass will be on Jetty Park pier at Port Canaveral to see 2 or 3 boosters land side by side for the first time.

    can’t wait!

    🙂

  • ReSpaceAge

    “finishing it” and having it flight ready are 2 different things I think.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Depends on your definition of “finishing it”. They’ve done both recently for F9 at least, which is what counts for SLC40. As for the FH upgrades there is a question mark. Once they get 6 weeks to upgrade the reaction frame, then they have stack FH and static fire. This will exercise the prop loading of 3 cores and suppression system. That is certainly new ground.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    They’re never ontime, except the ultimate launch prediction. But they’ll get ‘er done. Eventually.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Yeah, Late for having the largest cheapest rocket in the world FIRST

    🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Bingo! The world is just now ready for this rocket. That it’s so late is not a biggie. Once operational we’ll see how inexpensive it really is. If it is, we’ll see Space X tasking Falcon H’s in re-use mode to haul payloads that would normally go on Falcon 9’s in full throw away mode. If we see that happen, then I think that will be our observable sequence of events that prove out the predictions of the economics of re-use.

  • Paul_Scutts

    It is conceivable that in the not too distant future that a Falcon Heavy flying 3 “used” cores could lift 60 metric tons to LEO for around $30 million, i.e. $500 per kilo. What we will be seeing is the start of the closing of the business case of spending a week’s holiday, staying in a Bigelow station, in LEO for around $250,000. Millions of people could potentially avail themselves of such an opportunity, both young and old. Very exciting indeed.

  • windbourne

    huh.
    2 weeks is a fast turn around time for a launch pad?
    Anybody know why it is so long for that?

  • duheagle

    For the details I think you need to direct such questions to the people who operate launch pads. A two-week pad turnaround is very fast by historical standards. ULA’s best effort to-date on any of its pads has been roughly twice that.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Wouldn’t Falcon need a new fairing to carry BA330?. And $250,000 per person to LEO equates to F9+Dragon launched for $1,750,000, assuming all 7 seats occupied.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Just an optimistic thought to go along with all that: FH could also give them the leeway to really get into modding the 2nd stage for recovery – that really would give the economics of re-use a push in the right direction.

  • Richard Malcolm

    I’m going with a safe bet of 1Q 2018. But Musk’s language is more confident than usual. It’s not inconceivable it could fly in November-December. The largest variable seems to be the progress on the launch pads.

  • Richard Malcolm

    It would need a longer faring.

    http://imgur.com/gi7vElO

    But it’s doable – if Bigelow is willing to pay for the manufacture of a larger faring. SpaceX has no other potential customer at present who requires such a large faring, so it would have to be done specially for Bigelow.

    Right now, though, Bigelow has a deal with ULA to use Atlas without having to do any of that.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Seems to me that paying an extra $10-20 million for a new Falcon fairing, in order to save $50+ million on a launch would be a good move for Bigelow. Perhaps ULA have agreed to launch at a loss to try to stay relevant in the commercial market place. Or perhaps SpaceX (i.e. Musk) doesn’t want to do business with Bigelow.

  • windbourne

    $250K? Not likely in the next 5-10 years.
    However, $1-2M? Maybe. Keep in mind that 30M for FH is way low.
    And there is of course, living in private space station has a cost as well.

  • There are a couple of payloads (Dream Chaser cargo, BA-330, some NRO birds) that would need a new PAF and a longer fairing so as to be carried by Falcon9/FH. Developing such a fairing for said possible payloads is very expensive, and I am guessing that SpaceX is waiting for someone to pick up the tab (especially since their current one-size-fits-all fairing is covering the whole commercial market as is).

    To keep this short, it would not cost $10-$20M. Try 10+ times that..

  • duheagle

    If the economics of the situation were as you describe, I’d be inclined to agree. But I have only a very rough idea of what building the tooling for a significanty larger payload fairing might cost. And that could easily be appreciably more than $10 – 20 million.

    The molds, alone, would be non-trivially expensive, especially if they have to be made robust enough to support a significant on-going production rate.

    Then there is the fabrication equipment. Given their size, I don’t think much of the carbon fiber fabric layup processing for a payload fairing is probably done by human hands. That’s fine for aftermarket car and motorcycle parts, but even the current F9/H fairing halves are 17 x 43 feet in size. I suspect the layup process is at least semi-automated. I also suspect such equipment is bespoke and likely limited to a single size of output. New and larger such equipment would almost certainly be needed for a significantly larger fairing.

    The same is likely true of whatever form of heating apparatus is used to cure the fairing halves. I don’t know what the curing requirements are of the composite formulation SpaceX uses for its payload fairings. Some forms of composite require autoclaving. An autoclave applies both high pressure and heat to cure a composite article. Really big autoclaves are very expensive. Some composites can be cured with only an oven. But even a curing oven big enough to accommodate an entire fairing half is a very pricey piece of goods.

    I think the current Bigelow-Falcon Heavy disconnect is far likelier to be a matter of economics than of any bad blood between company principals.

    It seems likely to me that additional customers will appear with needs for larger payload fairings once Falcon Heavy has been shown to work. If not required to foot the entire bill for such a capability, Bigelow could well become such an FH customer too.

  • duheagle

    You are quite correct that SpaceX isn’t going to front any money for a bigger fairing. But given, as you also note, that there are already multiple identifiable parties with a potential strong interest in having such a thing available, I expect some sort of “user group” to be sitting down and talking turkey with SpaceX not long after the first test launch of FH. Once the potential customers see the basic item is real, I think they’ll quickly come forward to lobby for an upgrade.

    Also agree that $100 – 200 million is far likelier than $10 – 20 million to be the production infrastructure bill for such an effort.

  • duheagle

    I guess I may as well jump in here. I think the SLC-40 restoration will be done no later than mid-August. I think the first Falcon Heavy test mission flies in mid-to-late-October.

  • Terry Stetler

    There’s an EELV procurement in 2019 to replace Delta IV Heavy by 2023, and that would require the long fairing. In past procurements the USAF has contracted for such upgrades in order to maintain assured access, so SpaceX getting funding for a fairing isn’t out of the question. This would be similar to the USAF contract for an F9/FH Raptor upper stage engine.

  • Terry Stetler

    Musk tweeted they’re going to try an S2 recovery with FH #1.

  • duheagle

    That is certainly one quite possible way such a fairing could come to be.

  • publiusr

    Heck of a thing–launching a three core rocket. I’m still amazed that no shuttle did cartwheels.

  • ReSpaceAge

    I would sure love that!