SpaceX has had quite a year. Despite suffering a setback last September when one of their rockets exploded on the launchpad, delaying launches for several months, the company is set to finish 2017 with more launches than any year before. This year also marked the first time SpaceX has used a rocket that was previously launched, proving to the world that their rockets are really as reusable as they claim.
SpaceNews recently with SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell, where she laid out the company’s plans for 2018 and beyond. These plans include an increase in launch frequency, new iterations on the company’s rockets, and more details on SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket announced a few months ago.
SpaceX is on track to complete 20 successful launches in 2017, up from 8 in 2016. In 2018, the company hopes to nearly double that number. “We will increase our cadence next year about 50 percent,” said Shotwell to SpaceNews. “I think we will probably level out at about that rate, 30 to 40 per year.”
Shotwell also released more information about the company’s upcoming Block 5 iteration of their Falcon 9 rocket, set to launch early next year. The Block 5 version will see some design changes to the current Block 4 model, most notably a higher-thrust engine and design improvements to make it easier to recover and reuse the rocket. According to Shotwell, these improvements will enable the Block 5 Falcon 9 to be launched and recovered at least ten times with only minimal refurbishment.
Shotwell also gave an update on the first launch of the upcoming Falcon Heavy—hopefully late December, but possibly January—and spoke about what will happen to these rockets once the company’s next rocket is finished. When Elon Musk announced the BFR in September, many were concerned that it would replace the existing rockets that SpaceX customers had come to rely on.
“We are going to fly Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as long as our customers want us to be flying those,” says Shotwell, likely putting many satellite companies at ease. “We do believe they will want to come over to BFR, but we will be flying Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies until our customers are comfortable moving over.”