SpaceX Launches the Falcon 9 Block 5
– News of May 15, 2018 –
In 2010, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket flew for the first time. In its initial version, the Falcon 9 is a medium-capacity launcher that offers nothing particularly remarkable. Yet, Elon Musk and his company repeat that the Falcon 9 will revolutionize the space launchers market. In the eight years that followed, the Falcon 9 has been much talked about. The rocket has constantly evolved to increase its performance and especially to become a partially reusable launcher.
Thus, a Falcon 9 from 2018 is a rocket capable of placing twice as many payloads in orbit as a Falcon 9 from 2010. This progress was made thanks to multiple test versions and thanks to 54 test flight rockets. But this incremental development is coming to an end : SpaceX wants to give a final shape to its launcher. Last Friday, the first Falcon 9 Block 5 flew away with the first telecommunications satellite of Bangladesh. The flight went perfectly, including recovery.
In a conference a few hours before the launch, Elon Musk gave some details on the new features of the Falcon 9 Block 5 : it is designed to become the safest launcher in history, which is understandable because it must carry the Dragon V2 capsule and its crew. The second stage of the rocket has therefore been modified : it is equipped with a helium reserve, used to keep propellant tanks under pressure. It was the rupture of this small helium balloon that caused the explosion of the launcher in 2016. In the Block 5 version, the tank was revised to support more than twice its operating pressure. Moreover, the rocket benefits from various improvements : the thrust of the Merlin engines of the first stage is increased by 8%. The only Merlin on the second floor is growing by 5%. The structure that keeps the nine Merlin engines on the first floor has been strengthened. Titanium railings are now part of the rocket’s reference design.
These changes must make it possible to launch each Falcon 9 Block 5 at least ten times, with a minimum of maintenance. The company plans a demonstration of this capability next year : the same Falcon 9 rocket should be fired twice in less than 24 hours, so with very light maintenance. Eventually, Elon Musk is convinced that his customers will prefer to fly on used Falcon 9, and in the end the new Falcon 9 will be charged less expensive than those which have already flown, which is the opposite of the current situation.
SpaceX plans to build 30 to 40 Falcon 9 Block 5 over the next 5 years to complete approximately 300 flights. After that, the BFR will be launched. The Falcon 9 Block 5 is operational for at least a few years. Although SpaceX will certainly make some minor changes to its final version, there will be no Falcon 9 Block 6. The company still hopes to further improve the thrust of its Merlin engines.
SpaceX wants to reuse the second floor of the Falcon 9 launcher
– News of April 17, 2018 –
SpaceX is now working on the recovery of the second floor of its rockets. True to its communication habits, Elon Musk spoke on his Twitter account of a system using a party balloon and an inflatable castle. This indicates that SpaceX is studying the possibility of using “ballutes” (contraction of the words balloons and parachutes).
The recovery and reuse of the second stages was part of the Falcon 9 launcher’s plans as soon as it was designed. In 2011, the company originally wanted to use a heat shield and SuperDraco engines. But that proved too difficult to implement. The problem of second-floor recovery is that it reaches orbital speeds at the end of flight. Impossible in this case to deploy a conventional parachute. Rocket engines could be used but in the case of an upper stage the fuel reserves are very limited. The use of a “ballute” would greatly increase the drag of the second floor. The aim is therefore to slow it by friction with the atmosphere at subsonic speeds. A conventional parachute would then take over. According to Elon Musk, the second floor would then land on an inflatable structure.
The recovery of the second floor of the Falcon 9 rocket would be a new economic benefit for SpaceX. Although the majority of the cost of launchers lies in its first floor, the second floor also has some high value. This is the case, for example, with the unique Merlin engine and its immense nozzle optimized for vacuum.
SpaceX launches two Falcon 9s in 72 hours
– News of June 27, 2017 –
SpaceX successfully fired two Falcon 9s last week. With these two launches in 72 hours, SpaceX is getting closer to its goal of weekly shooting. The company is on its ninth shot of Falcon 9 in 2017 and is targeting 52 shots for 2019, one shot per week.
The rockets continue to be slightly modified and improved for each shot : during the last shots of Falcon 9, new titanium fins should greatly limit the maintenance required for this part of the rocket. The rocket used Friday was on its second flight. Reuse is therefore slowly being implemented at SpaceX. Within a year, the company should have more reused rockets than new rockets.