Elon Musk was active on Twitter over the weekend discussing the direction he’s hoping to take SpaceX’s rockets. Prior to the second launch of SpaceX’s “weekend double-header,” Elon Musk was answering questions about some upgrades being made to the rockets, most notably the shifting of the material used to make the hypersonic grid fins from aluminum to titanium. While this does make the rockets marginally heavier, the titanium is able to withstand reentry heat without shielding, making them much more durable.
Musk explained further after the launch, saying that the new grid fins worked better than expected and could be relaunched on “an indefinite number of flights with no service,” — which would greatly speed up the turn around time for launches. Musk’s aim is to have rocket boosters ready for relaunch in less than 24 hours.
New titanium grid fins worked even better than expected. Should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 25, 2017
Elon Musk recognizes that cost could be a significant barrier to setting up a successful and long-lasting colony on Mars. One of Musk’s talks was recently adapted into a journal article for New Space wherein he set a specific goal for the cost of a ticket to Mars. “You cannot create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person,” Musk said, saying that costs should not go above $200,000 per person (which is roughly the median price for a house in the United States).
Upgrades that increase the durability of the rockets also make them more economical, as less time will elapse between launches and the teams tasked to prepare them will be smaller. The more rockets SpaceX is able to turn around, the cheaper each individual flight will be.
Only time will tell how many more cost saving upgrades SpaceX has planned, but as a company that has already revolutionized space travel, no doubt they will continue to redefine it, too.