The new "Block 5" Falcon 9, which debuted Friday (May 11) with a flawless launch and first-stage landing, will take rocket reusability to bold new heights very soon if everything works out, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said.
"Needless to say, aesthetics are a small element in rocket design, but I enjoy the fact that we have returned to get nostalgic reasons to getting a black interstage", Musk said. "And I believe our most conservative consumers would agree with that".
The new rocket has improved its helium tanks submerged in liquid oxygen propellant tanks in the second stage. "I believe we remain in an excellent scenario".
SpaceX engineers may squeeze another 2 percentage of extra thrust from their very first phase, plus another 5 percent from this next stage in comparison with Block 4, " he explained. The single vacuum-optimized Merlin engine on Falcon 9's second stage has a 5 percent thrust increase to 220,000 pounds-force, he said. As SpaceX seeks to fly astronauts onboard by the end of 2018, NASA will require 7 successful flights of an unchanged version of the Falcon 9 before certifying the company and rocket for manned spaceflight.
Eight minutes after the launch, a 16-storey booster that was the lower part of the rocket, successfully landed back onto a drone ship. This launch will be flown by the first "Block 5" booster, the 7th and final iteration of the Falcon 9. "Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm that it does not need to be taken apart", Musk told reporters on a call before the flight. All this will allow the first stage booster to fly at least 10 times without refurbishment and up to 100 total flights in its lifespan with refurbishment. "The secret to Block 5 is that it's developed to do 10 or more flights without any fix in between each flight". It will be dissected before flying again in a few months. Additionally, it is designed for simpler manufacturing. SpaceX includes a contingency layout that would entail shifting from high-strength carbon fiber using an aluminum lining into the superalloy Inconel, but this is "unlikely to become mandatory", Musk said. The octaweb is made with bolted instead of welded aluminum and has greater thermal protection to prevent melting, he said.
"Standing down today due to a standard ground system auto abort at T-1 min. Rocket and payload are in good health-teams are working towards tomorrow's backup launch opportunity at 4:14 p.m. EDT, or 20:14 UTC". "We plan to support on the Block 5 platform and have no significant upgrades".