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Historical Data Analysis: SpaceX progress through data

SpaceX is going to mark a new era for space travel. We decided to celebrate this event in the best way we can: by analyzing data from SpaceX’s progress over time, and showcasing interesting insights from the company’s missions.
Anita Kirkovska
Anita Kirkovska
May 30, 2020
Pasteur University
Updated on:
October 16, 2020

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On the afternoon of May 30th, SpaceX will launch the first Dragon capsule crew to the International Space Station, heralding a new era for space travel. Not only is this the first time that a private company will launch a manned mission, but this will also mark the first time that a crewed mission will launch from American soil since 2011.If successful, SpaceX’s mission will end US reliance on other countries for manned missions, and will bring human spaceflight back to the US, after 9 years. 

To get to this momentous occasion, there have been a number of test flights and unmanned rocket launches from the US. We decided to celebrate this event in the best way we can: by analyzing data from SpaceX’s progress over time, and showcasing interesting nuggets from the company’s missions.

Dataset and Historical data

For this purpose we’ve used the Kaggle dataset for Space Missions that lists rocket launches from the last 56 years. We found interesting data on the number of rocket launches, weather parameters, vehicle types, cargo and other parameters for Spacex. Initially we wanted to predict if the weather was going to be favorable for the rocket launch on May 30th, but we didn’t have enough data to make an accurate prediction. Instead, we decided to clean and aggregate interesting insights for SpaceX launch history.

How we worked with the data

Data wrangling would usually take a lot of time, but not for us! Using our analysis software we were able to get from raw data to insights in a few minutes. 

We were able to clean missing values, get new parameters and aggregate data points by using blocks of transformations, that we call “transforms”. In the image below you can see what one of our transformation pipelines looked like. It is important to note that all of these data transformations were done without a single line of code.

Preview of the Data Analysis Software - Pasteur

The fun part: Spaceflight Data Insights 

Growing number of Rocket Launches since 2006

The last 14 years were big for SpaceX (see Chart 1). Since their first rocket launch in 2006, they have had a total of 96 launches. 

Out of the total launches:

  • 88 were successful and 
  • 8 were a failure.

This means they had a relatively low 3% failure rate. The graph also shows zero failures in the last 3.5 years of operation. It is important to note that scrubbed launches (weather conditions or other reasons) are not considered as failed launches.

Chart 1: Number of total and successful launches 2006 - 2020

Better rocket systems 

Given the increase of rocket launches and demand, better rockets have been built as well. For example, the Falcon Heavy rocket can lift a payload of 63,800 kilograms to low earth orbit. The maximum payload in 2018 corresponds to a successful mission with the new Falcon Heavy rocket (see Chart 2).

As the number of rocket launches increased, we saw improved rocket systems that carried more payload for research and development in the space station. In total, SpaceX has carried a total of 1,388,690 kg payload in the past 14 years. The highest payload per year for all rocket launches, happened in 2018, or a total of 389,300 kg payload. In that particular year, the 2018th, 21 rockets were launched, including the Falcon Heavy.

Chart 2: Total Payload per year and Maximum payload for one launch 2006-2020

Reusable rockets since 2015

We’ve seen an increase in rocket launches, especially after 2015, and one variable that might influence those numbers is that in 2015, SpaceX successfully launched a reusable orbital rocket stage. For example, this year on March 18th, the Falcon 9 was reused a record fifth time.

In “Chart 3” you can see that this reusability brought an increase of rocket launches. Additionally in Chart 4” you can see that the most used rocket is the Falcon 9 Block 5, which is the newest and the fifth version of Falcon 9 Full Thrust. Each Block 5 booster is designed to fly ten times with only minor attention, and up to 100 times with refurbishment. This is also the rocket that will take the two NASA astronauts, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken and it has successfully passed all the NASA requirements.

Chart 3: Number of Launches per type of Vehicle, 2006 - 2020

Chart 4: Number of times that a vehicle has been used from 2006 to 2020

Launch pads

The first manned mission by SpaceX will launch from a special NASA launch pad – the Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, FL. This is the same launchpad where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins began their journey to the moon aboard Apollo 11 in 1969. 

In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20 years lease for this launchpad. Since then, Launch Complex 39A has seen 19 launches. (see chart 5). However, the US Air Force leased Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40, has had a total of 55 launches so far, more than all other launchpads in the US, combined.

Chart 5: Number of launches per launching sites 2006 - 2020

Better rockets, higher rockets

Finally, we wanted to see if the height of the rockets has increased as rocket systems improved. The final version of Falcon 9, Block 5, is 70m high, and it is 69% higher than the earliest rocket ever launched by SpaceX (see Chart 6).

Chart 6: Rocket Height over 14 years, 2006 - 2020

Success takes time, and data can prove that

Sometimes an achievement like the SpaceX launch this Saturday can seem like it happened over night. However, a lot of work, passion and effort goes into all of that progress and data can show that.

Companies too, can utilize their data to make better decisions and learn from past behavior. We are space nerds and this was a use case that was fun to make. We did all of this in a couple of hours, by using our data automation software. Sadly, we weren’t able to predict outcomes for this Saturday launch because of lack of data, but we are excited for what promises to be a new chapter in human aviation. Astronauts Behnken and Hurley, know that not just America, but humanity is rooting hard for a successful launch and a safe return. Godspeed!

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