SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 will usher in a new era of rapid reuse rockets

Discussion in 'SpaceX' started by Eric Ralph, Mar 25, 2018.

  1. Eric Ralph

    Eric Ralph Member

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    #1 Eric Ralph, Mar 25, 2018
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 28, 2018
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    Despite all missions being readily in the range of recovery, SpaceX has only attempted to recover its Falcon boosters after two of the company’s five 2018 launches. If anything, the attachment to Falcon boosters and the apparent melancholy felt by many observers when they are not recovered is a testament to the staggeringly abrupt success of SpaceX’s reusable rocketry program.

    [​IMG]Falcon Heavy’s side boosters seconds away from near-simultaneous landings at Landing Zones 1 and 2. (SpaceX)[​IMG]GovSat’s Falcon 9 1032 spotted in one piece by Elon Musk after a soft-landing in the Atlantic. (Elon Musk)

    Aside from Falcon Heavy’s center core and 1044, each booster expended in the last several months (Iridium-4, GovSat-1, and PAZ) was aging, flight-proven, and nearing the end of its operational life: Block 3 and Block 4 Falcon 9s were simply not designed or expected to fly more than two or three times total. Their seemingly premature deaths were thus a necessary step along the path to Block 5 and truly rapid and cheap booster reuse; perhaps as pragmatic as quite literally making space for new and superior hardware at SpaceX’s many facilities. The demise of Falcon Heavy’s center core nevertheless made for a spectacular video (skip to 1:10, or watch the whole thing…).



    The end (of old Falcons) is nigh

    Despite the carnage in recent times, the next two weeks are likely to see several more flight-proven Falcon 9s meet their timely, watery demise, or at least complete their final flight in the case of CRS-14.

    • Iridium-5 (NET March 29) will be flying atop Booster (B) 1041, previously used for Iridium-3 (Oct. 2017)
    • CRS-14 (NET April 2) will make use of B1039, a booster that debuted with the launch of CRS-12 (Aug. 2017)
    • Iridium-6/GRACE-FO (NET April 28) was confirmed just yesterday to be flying on B1043, the booster that launched the now-infamous Zuma spysat this January
    • Lastly, SES-12 (NET April 30) will likely use B1040, which orbited the USAF’s secretive X-37B spaceplane in Sept. 2017

    [​IMG]Booster 1041 arrives in Port of San Pedro, CA in Oct. 2017 after successfully completing its first launch. (Pauline Acalin)[​IMG]Booster 1039 lands after successfully launching CRS-12’s Cargo Dragon into orbit. (SpaceX)[​IMG]1043 lands at LZ-1 after a mysterious Zuma launch. (SpaceX)[​IMG]Falcon 9 B1040 returns to LZ-1 after the launch of the USAF’s X-37B spaceplane. (SpaceX)

    While more than a little hard to believe, this series of launches over the next 4-6 weeks may see SpaceX’s fleet of flight-proven boosters shrink to no more than two flightworthy cores - perhaps just a single Falcon 9. The launch of NASA’s exoplanet observatory TESS - set to use the brand new Falcon 9 B1045 - will likely see one additional flight after landing at LZ-1 or OCISLY in mid-April. The final flight-proven booster known to exist in a potentially flightworthy state is B1042, famous for its moderate attempt at self-immolation and Roomba-murder (correction: the Roomba murder attempt was actually a few weeks before, during the landing of SES-11’s flight-proven booster) after the successful launch of Koreasat-5A in Oct. 2017. B1042’s future is unknown at this point, however, as the post-landing fire may have damaged the booster beyond repair.

    Rounding out SpaceX’s entire fleet of boosters, at least after SES-12, are the flight-proven B1045, the first-ever Block 5 booster (B1046) - flight-proven after Bangabandhu-1, and the second Block 5 booster (B1047). Assuming that Block 5’s first hot-fire testing has gone well at SpaceX’s McGregor, TX facilities, it’s probable that B1048 and perhaps B1049 will roll out of the Hawthorne factory and head to Texas for their own tests between now and then.



    TL;DR: SpaceX is betting heavily on Block 5

    The purpose of this brief jaunt through the annals of SpaceX’s rocket fleet and production goals is to demonstrate just how aggressively SpaceX has bet on Block 5 - both on its success as a new and complex technological system and as an unprecedentedly reusable orbital-class rocket. If any design or manufacturing flaws are discovered in the first several Block 5 Falcon 9s, or if Block 5 turns out to be less reusable than SpaceX hopes, the company could well find its manifested launch dates slipping as flightworthy boosters - not satellites - become the bottleneck for access to orbit.

    Nevertheless, SpaceX has at least six full-up Falcon 9 boosters in various stages of integration and completion at their Hawthorne factory, as well as 1046 in (or departing) Texas and 1047 presumably on its way there. SpaceX certainly has a strong track record of introducing its many upgraded iterations of Falcon 9 in the past - fingers crossed that that trend continues with Block 5. If SpaceX’s confidence still rings true a month or two from today, a new era of access to space will have truly begun, and SpaceX will be able to quite rapidly refocus a considerable portion of its workforce on getting to Mars.

    [​IMG]SpaceX Block 5 Falcon9 at McGregor, Texas [Credit: Chris G - NSF via Twitter, Reprinted with permission from NASASpaceflight.com][​IMG]SpaceX continues a cautious regiment of tests for the newest Falcon 9 upgrade, Block 5. (Reddit /u/HollywoodSX)

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    Article: SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 will usher in a new era of rapid reuse rockets
     
  2. hipponaut

    hipponaut Guest

    Great article! I noticed a few mistakes, though:
    \"it’s probable that B1049 and perhaps B1049 will roll out of the Hawthorne factory\"

    Also, I think you might be mixing the small fire during KoreaSat-5 and the larger fire during SES-11. Roomba was damaged during the SES-11 fire and wasn\'t onboard during KoreaSat-5.
     
  3. Roy_H

    Roy_H Member

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    \"SpaceX certainly has a strong track record of introducing its many upgraded iterations of Falcon 9 in the past – fingers crossed that that trend continues with Block 5.\"

    It is SpaceX\'s fervent hope that is not true. They want this to be the last version, and not have to spend more time and resources on further refinements. Only if some things break down faster than expected will any future re-design take place.
     
  4. J.Taylor

    J.Taylor Active Member

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    The falcon 9 Block 5 will become the new 'bread and butter' champion of SpaceX as it pays for the development of the interplanetary transporter.
    We know that the old hardware will be used up on flights where it can fill a spot in the manifest. No surprise here.
     
  5. mpc8240

    mpc8240 New Member

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    Small typo: \"it’s probable that B1049 and perhaps B1049\" instead of \"it’s probable that B1048 and perhaps B1049\" right?
     

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