SpaceX : A cardboard box (almost) in full for a strategic launch of Falcon Heavy

© SpaceX

The confession even of Elon Musk, it was the “launch to the more difficult ever attempted”. It is clear that the program was overly ambitious : the rocket Falcon Heavy -the most powerful of the catalogue SpaceX – had to carry not less than 24 satellites ( and a solar sail that has to be tested) into four orbits different. A feat of engineering, of which the first part (the delivery) has been performed with success. The deployment of the satellites is expected to take approximately six hours additional, after which it will be possible to say definitively if the mission is a success or a failure.

This launch was absolutely strategic for SpaceX, which is playing on several tables at the same time. In the first place, to improve the power monster that is the Falcon heavy is capable of carrying 64 tonnes of payload into orbit. This rocket, the most powerful since the legendary and over-sized Saturn V, should become the spearhead of travel interstellar provided by SpaceX. The company is working hard in view of the first trips to Mars, that it intends to start in the horizon 2024.

The deployment of the satellites – © SpaceX

The second objective is at the centre of the philosophy of SpaceX, who otherwise has been one of its main marketing arguments : Elon Musk does not support the concept of rocket single-use, and many tests where each of the parts of the rocket must be recovered. On this point, the mission is a quasi-success : while two of the modules rested on the boats-drones SpaceX successfully (which is starting to become a habit), the central module, it has missed its target. It has therefore ended its run with a loss and a crash into the Atlantic ocean.
To date, SpaceX has thus still not managed to recover the central module of a rocket Falcon Heavy. But in view of the continuing progress achieved by the company since their first absolutely historic in December 2015, we can expect that it is only a matter of time. This “failure” is thus to put into perspective, however, the most default, another first was achieved : the recovery of the cone head, which coinçait yet since a year and a half. According to The Verge, this cone has been caught using a giant net mounted on a boat. It is fundamental because it protects the entire cargo : SpaceX will therefore be repatriated to investigate the damage and determine if it could potentially fly again.

But the last goal is probably the most important of the three in terms of strategy of company : SpaceX wants to become a certified partner of the U. S. Air Force. C‘is in a mission called Space Test Program 2 conducted for the Department of Defense that this launch has been achieved, with the objective of making its evidence before the american administration. Such a partnership would be a transaction resounding both in economic terms and in terms of its image, for the spatial enterprise private number one in the world. Therefore, it is vital for the company to prove its ability to deploy equipment in orbit that can ensure a success rate of quasi-perfect, in a reasonable time, and at the lowest possible cost.

The rocket reusable, the mantra of Space X

It is for this purpose that SpaceX attaches as much importance to make the devices reusable. Elon Musk summed up very simply the problem : “Imagine that you have millions of dollars in cash on a pallet, launched in heaven, who goes crashing into the ocean. Try-you the recover? Yes. Yes, you would have to try.
At present, the main obstacle to the democratization of travel in earth orbit is the price staggering of the rockets.

One of the boosters in the process of re-landing – © SpaceX

Thus, while the Falcon Heavy is a very little expensive compared to some similar devices, it is all the same between 90 and 150 million dollars… per launch. For multiple launches, and thus the experiences, deployments and transits, only one solution : reduce the price. This is where this strategy makes sense :in recovering as much modules as possible at each launch, it is possible to reuse them and thus reduce drastically the cost per launch ! This, of course, represents a technical challenge, mind-blowing, especially since SpaceX is not trying to land anywhere but is a boat-drones that serve as the spaceport modules. These measure approximately 50×90 meters : a head of a pin when it s ‘is the aim from a spacecraft in orbit, which explains why SpaceX still hasn’t managed to recover the huge central module of its Falcon Heavy.