Poll

How many orbital flights will the Falcon 9 & Heavy family do before retirement?

<=50
1 (0.9%)
51-100
4 (3.6%)
101-150
5 (4.5%)
151-200
15 (13.5%)
201-250
21 (18.9%)
251-300
20 (18%)
300-400
14 (12.6%)
401-500
12 (10.8%)
501-600
4 (3.6%)
601-700
5 (4.5%)
701-800
2 (1.8%)
801-900
0 (0%)
901-1000
0 (0%)
>1000
8 (7.2%)

Total Members Voted: 111

Voting closed: 11/22/2017 05:29 PM


Author Topic: How many orbital flights will the Falcon 9 & Heavy family do before retirement?  (Read 3631 times)

Online Galactic Penguin SST

I'm bored this weekend, so here's a poll for you all.  ;)

This is probably a pretty interesting question regarding the future usage of the F9 family and the longevity of their usages. I have been interested in keep tracking the different machines that bring objects to orbit and it is interesting to see that they can be grouped into large families based on their heritage of the rockets' first stage.

For ease of discussion, a "rocket family" is defined as follows (adopting the convention that Jonathan McDowell et al. uses): rockets that share the same heritage of engines and basic stage structure/dimensions on the first stage. Hence all Titan rockets (except perhaps the Titan I, never used for launching things to orbit) share the same origin for the 1st (and in fact also the 2nd) stage, despite the Gemini Titan II and the Titan IV being of vastly different sizes and should be regarded as from the same family. The same is for Thor-Agena, Thor-Able and all Delta versions up to the Delta III, where the base diameter of the 1st stage is still the same after more than 60 years (plus all uses kerosene powered engines). The Delta IV would be in a separate family.

Hence for this poll:
1. All orbit aimed flights of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy versions currently/planned to be used will be counted.
2. If a "Falcon 9 with Raptor powered 2nd stage" is developed and flies later, flights of it will also be counted. On the other hand, flights of a new rocket with Raptor powered first stage topped by the existing Falcon 9 2nd stage will not be counted.
3. Failures of the F9 after leaving the ground and aiming at orbit will be counted.
4. Failures of the F9 before leaving the ground will not be counted.
5. Flights of F9-based rockets not aiming at orbit will not be counted (Grasshopper flights, Dragon 2 in flight abort test etc.).

After counting, I found that only 12 of these families have more than 100 flights aimed at orbit and beyond, with only 8 at 200+, 5 at 300+ and 2 - the R-7 and the Thor-Delta - at 500+.

With so many people gleaming at how the Falcon 9 and Heavy will be used frequently over the next years (especially when supporting the operations of the SpaceX LEO comsat constellation), I was wondering if you all think the Falcon 9 et al. will be used so frequently that it would be the DC-3/Model T of the Earth to orbit transportation? Specifically, voting on this poll will allow the discussion of these questions:

Will it last for decades to come (as with the iconic R-7/Soyuz or the Green Delta), or will it be superseded after just a few years in service?
Will it find some usage and have enough market share that will allow it to fly weekly or even more frequent flights?
Will reuse of the 1st stage allows it to fly more frequently?

Unfortunately I suspect that the question will not be answered for decades to come (which might disappoint many, as I suspect Korolev will had he saw the R-7 still flying by 2017), so no prizes if you get the answer right.  ;)

Discuss away!  :)
Chinese spaceflight is a cosmic riddle wrapped in a galactic mystery inside an orbital enigma... - (not) Winston Churchill

They currently sit at 42 successes, should be 47 by the end of the year. So starting with ~50, adding 30 in 2018 should be a safe bet barring failures. Then my prediction goes wild, if Block 5 reuse and Starlink proceed according to the plan I can see 100-150 flights between 2019 and 2020. We are at ~200, and BFR is close to/has already performed its first flight. In 2021 SpaceX starlink launches move to BFR and many costumers follow the trend: Falcon 9 is close to being retired, with only a few conservative costumers requesting it while SX pushes its new rocket. I predict 'only' about 50 flights till its EoL, in the first half of the decade, hence my vote of ~250 total flights.
« Last Edit: 10/22/2017 06:41 PM by AbuSimbel »
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Offline nacnud

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That seems a reasonable guess to me, so if assuming F9 Block 5 can have about 10 reuses then that gives 25 more first stages to be made before significant space in Hawthorn can be given over to BFR, unless they find space elsewhere.

Online jebbo

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I'm guessing BFR will slip, so an introduction to service around 2022. Assuming an average of 40 launches a year until then and a similar five year ramp down, I'd bet on >400

---- Tony

Offline high road

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About 30 flights per year on average (less in the coming years, more later on), five years before first flight, three to work out any remaining issues and two to convince enough customers to use the oversized, less tested system to be able to abandon the old line without losing too many customers.

That's 300+ flights.

Not including sweeping design changes to the upper stage that would extend the development phase, or developing the first stage first, which would have the opposite effect.

Online FutureSpaceTourist

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Changed my mind several times but eventually plumped for 251 - 300.

I believe BFR will (ultimately) succeed and be close to the capabilities claimed (for payload, reusability and price).

Yes BFR will be later than Elon says (usual time dilation factor) but I donít see the transition from F9/FH taking years once BFR does start flying. Assuming no failures once BFR is in service (failures during development & envelope expansion are expected), I think market confidence will be relatively quick, 18 months or so, with only a few flights booked years in advance deciding not to transition. Similar to what weíre already seeing with flight proven boosters, with substantial BFR enabled price reductions being a major attraction.

Offline mme

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I went with 300-400, basically 300 more launches of F9/FH combined. Hopefully that's too pessimistic but I'm assuming a solid 8-10 year run. I think SX is serious about BFR/BFS and I think they will pursue it aggressively.  I also think that they will run into more challenges than they anticipate, especially with the carbon fibre tankage, airframe, and ECLSS.  Also you need to deal with the possibility of a spectacular failure.

My guess is early LEO missions for the constellation by 2026 and the first Mars Cargo missions in 2028 or 2030.

Since they are opening a new manufacturing site for BFR I also think they'll find a way to keep F9 manufacturing at a minimal replenishment rate.  Some stock piling too, but not the stock-pile and shut down the line approach. [*]

Of source Elon is was smarter and has way more information than I do.  I just tend to be a schedule pessimist and eventual outcome optimist.

[*] I've never done real manufacturing. I'm not sure how feasible it is to have people split time 80/20 on different production lines using different techniques, equipment and materials.
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Online rockets4life97

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I went for 600+. I think Falcon 9 ends up being way more durable then expected. A single core will be re-used 50 times. With the number of cores SpaceX is planning on building, they'll simply keep flying re-used for 10 years at a high flight rate.

Offline ZachS09

I went for 600+. I think Falcon 9 ends up being way more durable then expected. A single core will be re-used 50 times. With the number of cores SpaceX is planning on building, they'll simply keep flying re-used for 10 years at a high flight rate.

Same here. I think that one day, Falcon 9 will get to the point where it endures so much aerodynamic stresses and can be reused between 40 and 50 times.
"Liftoff of Falcon 9: the world's first reflight of an orbital-class rocket."

Offline Ixian77

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>1000.

Thinking like the original poster, F9 = Model T/VW.

My hope is Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, et. al., could lease 'depleted' cores and use them into the 2040's.

How much easier would it be on the old cores to launch and return along the equator?
Not saying this margin (if it exists) would validate their continued use, but if the equatorial nations Universities could do research with old F9's, why not?

Online Galactic Penguin SST

Interesting to see the current distribution of polls.  ;)

For comparison, here's the full list of "rocket families" that, if I counted correctly, that have flown and aimed at orbit and beyond for 50 times or more in history, counted up till today:

1. R-7/Soyuz (1957 - ) - 1817 [1]
2. Thor-Delta (1958 - 2018) - 608 [2]
3. R-14/Kosmos-3M (1964 - 2010) - 461
4. Proton (1965 - ) - 413 [3]
5. Atlas (1958 - 2005) - 325 [4]
6. R-36/Tsyklon (1965 - ) - 280 [5]
7. DF-5/Long March 2/3/4 (1973 -) - 261 [6]
8. Titan (1964 - 2005) - 219 [7]
9. R-12/Kosmos-2 (1961 - 1977) - 164
10. Ariane 1-4 (1979 - 2003) - 144
11. Space Shuttle (1981 - 2011) - 135
12. Scout (1960 - 1994) - 100 [8]
13. Ariane 5 (1996 - ) - 95
14. Zenit (1985 - ) - 83
15. Atlas V (2002 - ) - 74

[1] Total no. flights 1875 (note that the number may be off by a few depending on whether some of the pad accidents are counted)
[2] Total no. flights 721; includes 342 "Classical Delta" and 185 Thor-Agena; Delta IV counted separately
[3] 1 sub-orbital launch in 1970 not counted
[4] Total no. flights 582; includes 148 Atlas-Centaur and 108 Atlas-Agena; Atlas V counted separately
[5] Includes R-36M based Dnepr
[6] Includes related FB-1 but Long March 1 (DF-4 based) and Long March 5 et al. not included
[7] Total no. flights 368; includes 24 orbital Titan II /72 Titan III without SRB/ 84 Titan III with SRB/39 Titan IV
[8] Total no. flights 125

Source: Ed Kyle's site / Jonathan McDowell's database
Chinese spaceflight is a cosmic riddle wrapped in a galactic mystery inside an orbital enigma... - (not) Winston Churchill

Offline Lar

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(mod) I tweaked the poll to make the votes not visible till you voted, and to have it expire 31 days from the start, not a year. Both are typical here. If the Penguin doesn't like that he'll PM me I am sure. :)

(fan) I voted >1000 mostly on whim. I can see the idea of F9s eventually being reused by other parties. This doesn't mean I don't have confidence in Musk's plans
« Last Edit: 10/24/2017 06:44 PM by Lar »
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Offline intrepidpursuit

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I voted 267.

I think it will take a bit of time both for BFR to get operation and for the market to shift to using it. SpaceX seems to think they'll have 800 satellites up by 2019, so none of those will be on BFR and the Falcon manifest will be hardware limited until BFR is fully operational. Once they start booking commercial sats on BFR, it will still take time before they can transition sensitive payloads or ISS missions over, so we'll see a long taper.

I don't see anyone else operating used Falcon stages. New upper stages would have to be built and if SpaceX can operate BFR cheaper than Falcon 9, I doubt anyone else will be able to operate Falcon 9 more cheaply. Would be cool to see a future contract to convert them to boosters for the next congressional launcher or something though.

Previous - 28
2017 - 19
2018 - 30
2019 - 40
2020 - 50
2021 - 50
2022 - 25
2023 - 15
2024 - 10

Offline Zed_Noir

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....
I don't see anyone else operating used Falcon stages. New upper stages would have to be built and if SpaceX can operate BFR cheaper than Falcon 9, I doubt anyone else will be able to operate Falcon 9 more cheaply. Would be cool to see a future contract to convert them to boosters for the next congressional launcher or something though.
....

As long as there is a supply of upper stages. There might be a market for nostalgia rides to LEO in a vantage Falcon 9/Dragon 2 stack for deep pocket tourists. For the richer tourists a swing around the Moon with the Dragon 2 on top of a Falcon Heavy.  :)

Offline vapour_nudge

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Just a tad over 250. I'd like to see a poll on how many more failures of the F9 family we'll see. This would be an indicator of confidence levels. It'd also be interesting to see our view on the other existing & emerging vehicles like New Glenn, Vulcan, Ariane 6 & Atlas V. Will Atlas V reach 100 in total and so on. So many polls
« Last Edit: 10/25/2017 10:48 PM by vapour_nudge »

Online Comga

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Voted 400-500
My impression is that it will take a LOT longer to get BFR online.
However the main issue is they can't develop it like Falcon. 
They can't piggyback tests on revenue runs nearly for free. and lose vehicles left and right for a while until it works.
That and the SpaceX time dilation factor
Falcon 9 seems pretty serviceable in the meantime, so all seems good.
What kind of wastrels would dump a perfectly good booster in the ocean after just one use?

Offline Patchouli

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Same here I voted 400 to 500 as well esp considering F9 is reliable enough for NRO payloads.

« Last Edit: 10/25/2017 11:41 PM by Patchouli »

Offline mikelepage

I went with 251-300.

Because as far as we know,
1) every one of those requires a new second stage (so I don't see non-SpaceX entities using F9 family rockets). 
2) SpaceX isn't going to/can't reduce the price more than 80% if they are still building new second stages.
3) BFR/BFS, even if it slips by 5 years, is likely to be ready (and make F9 family obsolete) 10 years from now.

I tend to think these next ten years, even if F9 family could do a higher flight rate than once a fortnight, is going to be limited to the existing customer base while the new space companies/payloads are still ramping up.

Online AncientU

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>1000.  Why build a rocket with 100 uses possible if you are only using it one tenth of that?  A couple dozen Block 5 first stages will probably be built over the next couple years -- attrition will reduce the number getting to 100 uses, but even if a quarter get there, and the rest are spread out in some s-shaped distribution function, we'll be over 1000 flights.

Easy to say the Falcon family will be retired, but difficult to throw away paid-for boosters, which will remain the least expensive ride to space or nearly so for a decade, with tens of flights left in them.
« Last Edit: 11/02/2017 03:02 PM by AncientU »
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Online FutureSpaceTourist

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Easy to say the Falcon family will be retired, but difficult to throw away paid-for boosters, which will remain the least expensive ride to space or nearly so for a decade, with tens of flights left in them.

IF BFR and BFS work as advertised then they will be cheaper than F9 & FH. I donít think Elon/SpaceX will have any difficulty throwing the boosters away at that point.

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