In an exclusive interview with Reuters, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell revealed the private space company aims to launch a Falcon 9 rocket every two to three weeks in 2017.
Elon Musk is never shy of ambitious targets and if the company can achieve this goal it would be the fastest rate since SpaceX started launches in 2010. Last year the company achieved just eight of its twenty scheduled launches, in part because the company had to ground its rockets after the static test fire explosion in September. SpaceX currently has a backlog of over 70 launches, worth over $10 billion, and has successfully flown 27 out of 29 times since the Falcon 9 made its debut in 2010.
Shotwell also confirms SpaceX will be modifying the Falcon 9's engines to increase performance and resolve potential safety issues. Changes will be made to the rocket's turbopomp as NASA and the U.S. Air Force raised concerns about cracks in this rocket component.
The company plans to change the design of the Falcon 9's turbopump - which provides propellants to the rocket's engines - to eliminate cracks that have prompted concern from NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
NASA has hired SpaceX to taxi astronauts to and from the International Space Station starting in late 2018.
Shotwell said the new turbopumps will be installed before the first unmanned test flights of the commercial space taxi, scheduled for November.
Two types of cracks were found during a ground test of the Merlin engines in 2015. The first type was the most serious one and was resolved via a software fix and the implementation of a redesigned turbine wheel. The first of the redesigned turbine wheels flew in July 2016. The second type of cracks involved welds and shrouds, SpaceX was not concerned about the presence of these cracks and believed they are not a concern for flight, but NASA and Air Force asked for a redesign:
“For us, the concern was not the cracks, but do they grow over time? Would these cracks cause a flight failure?” Shotwell said. “I think NASA is used to engines that aren’t quite as robust, so they just don’t want any cracks at all in the turbo machinery."