SpaceX to build test prototype of BFS, test on Falcon 9

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Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced today that it is building a test prototype of its Big Falcon Spaceship, the upper stage of its Big Falcon Rocket, and it will use the Falcon 9 to do orbital flight tests.

Musk in a tweet said that they hope to to do the first flight by June 2019. Musk also said that they will not be testing vertical landing with this prototype, focusing instead on atmospheric re-entry. From this I can only assume it will not be recovered after its return to Earth.



  • I think it may be recovered, if practical, so they can do a materials examination. If reentry works, it’ll go subsonic as it falls through the troposphere. It would be smashed to bits hitting the ocean in free fall, but with a ringsail parachute, it’d be intact enough to be to be fished out. Or with a steerable chute, maybe caught by Mr. Steven. It’d be too banged up for reuse, but intact enough to make study worthwhile.

    In the realm of high fantasy, Falcon 9 has enough margin you could imagine this test vehicle evolving into a small spaceplane with a crew compartment. In the past, that would’ve been worth doing. Now it’s too late. BFR and New Armstrong are coming and by 2030 it’ll be a different aerospace world. Hope I get to see it!

  • geoffc

    Reading the article it means they will do exactly what they did all along.

    Use paid for flights, to test new technologies, after the core mission is done.

    So on most of the initial Falcon 9 flights after stage 1 was finished its paid for job, they tested reentry and landing ideas until they got it working right.

    And then once they got landing working and had stages that were not going to land (sea conditions, or payload size issues) they tried super aggressive reentry options to nail down the edges of the envelope that they could handle.

    This just means they are going to test BFR reentry ideas on a Stage 2. So instead of just destructively reentering they will try to see how different attitudes affect reentry. And sounds like they will test out the heat sheild they were considering as well.

    Very very smart. NASA would spend a billion dollars on a one off special test vehicle that takes 6 years. SpaceX is just going to start using their second stages, which they fly 20 times a year and experiment till they get it right.

  • Edward

    geoffc wrote: “SpaceX is just going to start using their second stages, which they fly 20 times a year and experiment till they get it right.

    This makes much sense. Testing could include assuring that the “hatch” part of the nosecone works as expected, a new form of adapter and release mechanism performs properly, and that the reentry systems (heat shield, fins, “wings,” etc.) are adequate.

    Because half the nosecone does not open like the current fairings, they cannot release payloads straight ahead as they do now. This will complicate the mechanisms that they use to hold the payload and release it in a way that does not collide with the ship.

    There may be no need to recover the test article(s), especially if they do not want to examine the materials. This may be mostly a proof of concept test, using instrumentation to validate that nothing was overstressed. The early Falcon 9 reentry tests were not recovered but were “soft landed” into the ocean, yet important lessons were learned during those experiments; verifying the reusability of the engines had to wait until a first stage was successfully recovered.

    I see the main risk as being in scaling up, which can be tricky.

    On the other hand, although SpaceX did not mention it, wouldn’t it be nice if, based upon these tests, they chose to make reusable Falcon 9 upper stages?

  • wodun

    This is interesting because SpaceX took a lot of heat for their constant iterations and they were forced by the media to say their Block V would be a set thing and wouldn’t be constantly changed. I am assuming that their new 2nd stage wont be used on crewed flights and possibly not on any NASA flight.

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