Recovered Falcon 9 first stage prepped for launch


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The competition heats up: SpaceX on Tuesday revealed that last week it has completed the standard static fire testing of the recovered Falcon 9 first stage that it plans to relaunch in March.

A March launch would mean an 11-month turnaround, which is far from optimal, but understandable for the first time. SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, Elon Musk, has acknowledged the company must do better in the future if resuable flight is to become economically viable. He says the next—and likely final—iteration of the Falcon 9 rocket will be optimized for reuse. “Block 5 is the final upgrade of the Falcon architecture,” he tweeted earlier this year. “Significantly improves performance & ease of reusability. Flies end of year.”

It now seems likely that SpaceX will fly the landed boosters it currently has, at most once or twice, before retiring them, instead of multiple times. Although the company hasn’t elaborated on the problems with the engines, booster structure, or composite materials that have shown wear and tear after their orbital launches and returns, Musk is confident that changes to the Block 5 version of the rocket will solve the problem. “I think the F9 boosters could be used almost indefinitely, so long as there is scheduled maintenance and careful inspections,” he has said.

In other words, SpaceX has had — for the first time in history — the opportunity to inspect a number of used first stage rockets, and that precious knowledge is making it possible for them to upgrade the stage design to make future stages more hardy. In fact, those future stages won’t be stages, but reusable vessels that SpaceX could even name if it wished.

3 comments

  • Michael

    Names and even campaign stars. If they were not so much of an in-house shop they could even place advertising logos on the booster a la race cars. While the mind boggles at the thought of yet another “Susan B Anthony”, naming boosters is a great idea for a next step.

    In that I am sure that individual boosters will have unique characteristics, similar to airplanes, I can even see payload providers vying for specific first stages.

  • LocalFluff

    What theme would the naming have? Birds? Racehorses? “Buzz Lightyear”. Or quotes by Elon Musk. In any case it would be great marketing, really showing off against the expendable competitors.
    I’d like separate names for the first and second stage of Falcon to begin with (and there’s no need to use the “9” when that is the only one that exists).

  • jburn

    I’m guessing he may continue to borrow names from the Ian Banks “Culture” series of science fiction books.

    This would be consistent with his selection of names for the drone recovery vessels he uses for ocean based landings – “Of course I still love you”, etc…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *