SpaceX targets rapid reuse with the first Falcon 9 Block 5 booster

Feb 27, 2018, 3:30 pm

Shahid M.

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The next feat SpaceX is looking forward is to achieve rapid and inexpensive reusability. As of now, the first Block 5 Falcon 9 first stage resides at McGregor, Texas test facility. It is on the test stands and is being prepared for a test fire. Core 1046, the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster, was first unveiled at Interstate 8 in Yuma, Arizona. It was transported to their McGregor test site, from the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

The Falcon 9, SpaceX’s workhorse rocket, made its maiden debut in 2010. Back then, its appearance was quite different. Since then it received major upgrades in the systems, fuel tanks, and engines. Initially, the nine Merlin 1C engines were arranged in a 3×3 grid pattern. The tanks were much shorter as well. The design of the Merlin 1C engine was partly borrowed and slightly modified from the early first stage Falcon 1 & the vacuum-optimized second stage Merlin 1C engine. The Version 1.0 was used for 5 times. These were used to establish Dragon capsules or mockups of Dragon to Low Earth Orbits.

The new Version 1.1 of the Falcon 9 was designed to take more payload. It was introduced in 2013. The older Merlin 1C engines were replaced by the Merlin 1D. The fuel tanks of both the stages were stretched.

With the v1.1 SpaceX brought the revolutionary recovery and reusability feature. The leftover propellant was used to land the first stage in the open ocean or on Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.

SpaceX also attempted to recover the second stage. Ms. Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, did say in 2017 that in 2018 the world could see SpaceX attempting to “land a second stage gently in the ocean”. She also said, “We will not reuse the second stages, we will try to bring them home though”.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5The first stage recovery of the Falcon 9 v1.0 was attempted with quite a different approach. The stages, equipped with parachutes, were landed in the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly the parachutes were torn apart as a result of the enormous mass and speed of the stages.

Then came the propulsive landing. Learning from the previous experiences, the first few landings were attempted on the open ocean, on a drone ship. The first test turned out to be unsuccessful. On the second attempt, the booster was landed perfectly and precisely. Gaining confidence, the next landings were tested on an actual drone ship. ‘Just Read The Instructions’ was the name of the first drone ship and had the Port of Jacksonville as its home port.

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