This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version of its Falcon 9 rocket after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-called Block 5 upgrade started from the company's launch platform at the Kennedy Space Center and sent a communications satellite to orbit in Bangladesh. It is the first launch of Block 5, the vehicle that will take people into space for NASA and possibly usher in a new era of reusability for SpaceX.
Block 5 is said to be the most reusable SpaceX rocket with many upgrades that negate the need for comprehensive remediation between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 missiles will be able to fly up to ten times at a time without needing any post-landing maintenance, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, as soon as one of these rocket land lands, SpaceX will rotate horizontally, place a new top step and nose cone on top, turn it vertically on the Launchpad, fill with propellant, and then restart. Musk noted that the vehicles would require moderate maintenance after the ten-flight mark, but it is possible that each rocket can fly a total of up to 1
It will be a while before SpaceX is so efficient. Since this is the first launch and first landing of Block 5, the company will still deconstruct the vehicle and carry out inspections to see if it can actually fly again without retrofitting. "Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm that it does not have to be taken apart," Musk said. He found that this particular rocket will probably not fly again for a few months.
But the goal is to close the gap between the flights of the Falcon 9. Musk says to demonstrate the true strength of Block 5, SpaceX plans to launch the same rocket twice within 24 hours sometime next year. The smallest gap between SpaceX launches has been two days – though the missions took place on opposite coasts of the US and the company used different missiles for each flight. It usually takes a few months for the same Falcon 9 rocket to fly again.
Block 5 is not only better for reuse, but it also has much more power than its predecessors. The main Merlin engines at the bottom of the rocket have 8 percent more thrust than before, and Musk believes there is more room for improvement. "The boost we get is really incredible at this point," he said. Meanwhile, the Merlin engine in the upper stage of the rocket – which works in the vacuum of space – has 5 percent more thrust than before.
Block 5 is also the rocket SpaceX will use to send astronauts to the US International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. To certify the vehicle for human transportation, SpaceX had to make a variety of improvements to the design of the rocket. "There are thousands and thousands of requirements," Musk said. First, the rocket needs to be able to handle more loads during takeoff, and it needs to have a much higher tolerance for small failures. In other words, if a few things go awry during the flight, the rocket will be fine. Musk found that a few engines could run out of this vehicle and the Falcon 9 would still be able to get into orbit. But to be on the safe side, NASA demands that SpaceX fly Block 5 at least seven times without major changes to the rocket before people can drive on it.
Before the start, Musk stated that debugging all these new changes made him particularly nervous , "The reason it's so hard to get an orbital rocket to work is the fact that you've got 100 percent," he said. "And you can not fully and properly test an orbital rocket before it launches, because you can not restore these conditions on Earth … man, anyway, I'm stressed out."
SpaceX is not about to fundamentally rewrite Block 5, but small changes should be avoided to improve flight reliability and reusability. According to Musk, the company is likely to have between 30 and 50 block 5 rockets in rotation. The number depends on which customers insist on flying satellites on a new vehicle, although he hopes the mindset on used rockets will change in the coming years. "The general mood will change from … Feeling like, A flown rocket is scary," A flying missile is scary, "Musk said.
Customers who want to fly with a used rocket get a discount. Launch costs for a flown Falcon 9 are $ 50 million, while new vehicles start at $ 60 million. And if Block 5 really does not have to be refurbished between flights, SpaceX could save even more on costs and lower its prices even further. It all depends on how block 5's next flights will run.
But if all goes well, Musk has predicted that the Falcon 9 will make 300 more flights before retiring. Then, the bulk of SpaceX's missions will be carried out on the company's next big rocket, the BFR.