The Falcon 9 has seen many changes since its launch failure back in September 2016. On Thursday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed new insight into how the rocket has changed ahead of Friday’s launch.
The SpaceX founder said SpaceX intends to ramp up the number of Falcon 9 launches this year and has robust plans for achieving full reusability. Here are some of the most important insights to know ahead of Block 5’s next launch.
1. The new thermal protection has a nostalgic look.
Musk has made it a point to discuss added thermal protection from Falcon 9’s previous iterations. The Block 5 booster will have thermal protection composed of a hydrophobic material that doesn’t attract water. Not only will it require less maintenance, but it will have a certain aesthetic quality, too. Musk said the black color reminds him of Falcon 1.
“A lot of new thermal protection,” Musk reportedly said. “You’ll notice the black interstage, raceways, and landing legs. Doesn’t need paint. Highly hydrophobic, doesn’t attract water. I really like black. It looks like Falcon 1.”
2. Thermal protection depends on a stronger Octaweb.
The Block 5’s Octaweb, containing nine engines, is made of higher-strength aluminum and sits at the base of the rocket. The new and improved Octaweb is not only stronger, but keeps each engine contained within a bay. This means if one engine has complications, or has a “bad day” as Musk called it, it won’t affect the other eight compartmentalized engines, protecting each from an engine fire.
“Much stronger Octaweb,” Musk was quoted. “7000 series (aluminum) instead of 2000. Better thermal protection on the inside.”
3. It won’t waste hours on stowing its landing legs.
The landing legs will be much easier to stow this time. Musk shared that there is an internal latch mechanism that can be opened and closed quickly. Whereas previous landing gear took hours to retract, the new landing gear is quickly stowed via an actuator to motorize the process.
“New landing gear can be retracted via an actuator. Much quicker and easier than old landing gear which took hours to retract manually.”
4. Reentry data is headed for the Iridium constellation.
Musk shared that SpaceX will be “gathering data about the re-entry experience of the upperstage.” During the second stage of re-entry, the company intends to transmit data to the Iridium constellation.
“We’re required to do a disposal burn,” Musk explained. “We now monitor what happens during the break up on re-entry. [We’ll] try and transmit to the Iridium constellation during re-entry.”
5. Humans are always the hardest part.
The hardest part of making Block 5 was the process of human rating it. Musk said there were “literally thousands and thousands and thousands of requirements” but it resulted in a rocket that is “designed to be the most reliable rocket ever built.”
“Meeting NASA’s human rating for Block 5 maybe was the hardest thing. We met or exceeded all their requirements”
6. Musk breaks down cost allocation.
Musk says the Falcon 9’s propellant costs somewhere between $300,000 to $400,000. While he doesn’t reveal exact pricing on other aspects of the launch, he does offer a breakdown of the budget.
“Booster is about 60%; 20% on second stage; 10% on fairing; 10% on launch itself. Propellant is only about $300,000 per launch, maybe $400,000, depending on how you count it.”
7. He wants to reuse the entire vehicle.
Musk has said this in the past, but this time he argues that launch operations could be significantly cheaper if the entire vehicle is reusable, and it was built with that in mind. Here’s hoping.
“If we can reuse the entire vehicle, we can bring the launch cost by an order of magnitude.”
8. Heat shields will help him get there.
“Adding heat-shields to the upperstage until we can recover. I’m confident we can recover an upperstage, but at what payload penalty.”
9. China is also looking at reusable rockets.
He’s not the only one that sees an opportunity in reusing veteran rockets. Musk noted that China is also looking at that market.
After noting this, Musk called SpaceX a “forcing function” to drive down launch costs.
10. Musk loves NASA, but…
“NASA is like a really good friend who can be a pain in the ass because he cares too much.”