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SpaceX launches less frequent possibly due to liquid oxygen shortages

SpaceX launches made news in the first and second quarter this year. Later the launch became less frequent. According to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the launches are less frequent as the COVID pandemic hits the availability of liquid oxygen. A shortage is observed. However, Musk replied to the post saying that it is only a risk but not a limiting factor.

SpaceX now dominates rocket flight, bringing big benefits—and risks—to NASA  | Science | AAAS

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Flacon 9 uses both kerosene and liquid oxygen to fuel its nine Merlin 1D engines. But the Starship uses different engines which use Methane along with liquid oxygen as an oxidizer. Shotwell said, “We’re actually going to be impacted this year with the lack of liquid oxygen for launch. We certainly are going to make sure the hospitals are going to have the oxygen that they need, but for anybody who has liquid oxygen to spare, send me an email.”

Certainly, pandemics increased the need for liquid oxygen. According to UNICEF, even prior to COVID, around 800,000 children were prone to pneumonia all over the world. Many of them are without oxygen cylinders. And COVID increased the demand for oxygen cylinders all over the world.

While Shotwell politely mentioned leaving the Liquid oxygen for those in need, SpaceX missions also are intended to save people of the future. Falcon 9 may have sent only 4 astronauts to orbit so far, but the Starship is expected to do a lot more, initially to the moon and then to Mars. Interestingly, it is anticipated that their spaceship would need limited propellant and then have a system that allows the rocket to survive on its own in space. As the plan to launch the rocket, send people and the spaceship stays in space for months, it needs to run on its own, let it be solar or other energy systems. More or less, Elon Musk’s statement that liquid oxygen is not a limitation makes sense.

Starlink launches

Despite all the reasonings, SpaceX launches have been limited in reference to Starlink satellites. Since June, there were no Starlink launches this year. On August 24, Shotwell stated that SpaceX is manufacturing the next generation satellites equipped with laser communication links. Stated, “We’re flying a number of laser terminals right now in space,” Shotwell said, stating that they are working on manufacturing enough satellites with lasers to launch on upcoming missions. “[…] That’s why we have been struggling for six or eight weeks — we wanted the next set to have laser terminals on them.”

These space lasers are known to be able to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data. Additionally, the company is working on reducing the manufacturing costs of Starlinks. According to the plan SpaceX is to launch 20,000 Starlink satellites into orbit in seven years. They seem to acknowledge that the Starlink satellites are not affordable for many rural areas yet.




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