Block 5

Loren Grush on the significance of today’s launch.

At this point, SpaceX rules the world on expertise in developing and operating space transports. BFR is largely simply scaling up current systems. And rockets scale up quite nicely, within facilities limits.

[Update a few minutes later]

More from Doug Messier.

[Update a while later]

And more, from Chris Gebhart.

This will be an historic day if the flight is successful. Or even if it’s unsuccessful. Only way it won’t be historic is if they scrub.

[Update Friday morning]

OK, they scrubbed yesterday, and have another opportunity today. I haven’t heard yet if they found the problem, but here’s a transcript of a very interesting telecon with Elon yesterday.


[Afternoon update]

I did a little tweetstorm.

As I note over there, in terms of opening space to humanity, historians will record that today was a more significant day than July 20th, and the most significant event in spaceflight since Sputnik and Gagarin. We’re finally making spaceflight routine and affordable to others than governments, over half a century after we first started.

[Monday-afternoon update]

More from Jeff Foust over at The Space Review today.


34 thoughts on “Block 5”

  1. Here is Chris Gebhart’s coverage of Elon Musk’s pre-launch teleconference, reported to an NSF forum.

    Very bullish on Block 5 ease of reusability and bullish on high launch cadence. On track to double last years launch rate and fly more missions than any other country this year.

    “Right now, flight-proven F9s are priced at $50 million USD. New boosters are $60 million USD.”

    Launch is now scheduled for 17:47 EDT (2147 GMT).

  2. Absent the new Block V, it looks like SpaceX would still easily increase their number of launches to rival any country or company in the world. Can’t wait to see how much they can shrink the days between launch for the same core.

    Since the are talking about launching BFR from a ship, would they test the ship with a F9?

    1. A while ago Mr. Musk announced that they were constructing a third ASDS drone ship, to be called “A Shortfall of Gravitas”. I believe that the plan was for it to be based on the East Coast, to support a higher launch cadence out of Florida.

      SpaceX fans haven’t yet determined where it is being built, and it does not appear to be coming from the Marmac line which has supplied the current landing barges. Some people have wondered it could be quite different from the old design, perhaps capable of supporting BFS launches as well as F9 landings, but this is nothing but speculation at this point.

      I’ve not heard any talk about launching F9s from a barge or ship since Mr. Musk suggested, quite some time ago, that they might someday refuel landed boosters and fly them back to the launch site.

  3. Still not seen a reason for the abort beyond, “a standard ground system auto abort at T-1 min.” Launch windows starts tomorrow at 4:14 p.m. EDT.

    Here [YouTube 49:35] is audio of the pre-launch teleconference with Mr. Musk.

  4. Our goal, just to give you a sense of how reusable we think the design can be, we intend to demonstrate two orbital launches of the same Block 5 vehicle within 24 hours no later than next year.
    Hmmm… Forget the civilian market. The MilSpace market for ‘agile launching’ and/or replacing military satellites in a conflict…
    *Slap* Take that, LockMartBoeing!

    1. I could see a customer feeling reluctant about subjecting their mission to the artificial time pressure of what could be viewed as a 24-hour-turnaround stunt, but if SpaceX is launching their StarLink constellation by then, they could be their own customer for the second flight. And by using both Florida launch pads, they could relieve the pressures of launch pad and transporter/erector refurbishment and Horizontal Integration Facility building usage.

  5. “incredible amount of dogs in the background” should be the name of an avant-garde rock band.

  6. Thanks for the link to the transcript, Rand. The available audio recording was difficult for me to follow at times.

    1. For those interested in the response to Loren Grush regarding Human Rating and the 25% and 40% comment, more info here.

  7. The disassembly and inspection process for these first few is critical to the establishment of a maintenance schedule for the vehicle. But it isn’t apparent to me that the turnaround cost would be anywhere near the cost of a new stage. The most expensive parts are the engines, and if they don’t need replacement (or expensive repair), that’s a tremendous saving. Of course, just collecting, digesting, and translating the data into a maintenance plan absorbs a lot of technician and engineering time, but it’s an investment which can increase the payoff through design mods that cost little, but extend life greatly. But even that investment is far short of the cost of 9 new Merlins.

    In terms of operations savings, SpaceX has already broken the code. They have about 60 people at the launch site to process a flight. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was one of the founders of the TRW Space Launch Services Organization. Though we used expendable solids (from our ICBM experience), we found that the operational costs were a big factor. We adopted a number of innovations in the field, and could demonstrate big savings (analytically). I was gratified to see that SpaceX had implement all of the things we had thought of, and it showed in their price point.

    If only FAA licensing could make some progress…

    1. I thought the engines were about $400K each, or about $4M for all the S1 engines. That’s a small fraction of the cost of the stage.

      1. Yes, I am. If you are going to ask: “Why don’t you do something about it?” please save us all the grief.

  8. I agree today is an important day. I disagree that historians will find it more more important than Apollo 11. I consider myself a well-educated aviation buff and can of course name Charles Lindbergh, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Ryan Aircraft company, and the Orteig Prize. I’d have to Google the first transatlantic commercial aircraft flight.

    Question for the peanut gallery: are they getting better at mainiting comms for 1st stage landings on the drone ships? (as casual observer I think they’re improved, but no data) Does the rocket plume interference offer any analogy for improving comms during atmo re-entry? Seems kinda antiquated to me that loss of coms during re-entry is as still an issue.

    1. I’m of the opine that they should ditch digital signals for the older analog composite NTSC am/fm signal on the drone ship which is actually more tolerant to signal interference via jarred motion of the drone ship without loss of framing. You can do the ADC back on the recovery ship.

    2. Apollo was the greatest technical achievement in history (so far), but in terms of opening space to humanity, what happened yesterday dwarfed it. In fact, from that perspective, Apollo set us back decades.

      1. I know you like to lament the fact that “opening space to humanity” delayed by Apollo. But I think you are underestimating the forces at play, underetimating hte technical ability and overstating the impact of Apollo:

        Number one, there was no choice back then but to select astronauts from the elites…we simply didn’t know enough. Remember that early moon landing astros flew in Gemini and those were selected in the early 60’s when we had only a few Mercury flights under our belts. So for all of Apollo you and I were out.

        But more importantly, in the grand scheme of things the “decades delay” doesn’t amount to anything. Yours and my time scales are out lifetime and easy access to space for the masses would be necessary for you and I to go there. But the tech wasn’t there and neither was the impetus. So we may lament the delay but historians won’t.

        Then, there was no mission for “opening space to humanity”.

        Von Braun wanted to do that but, as in Germany, he had to work within the political goal system he found himself in because that’s where the money came from.

        And I would claim that it was the Shuttle and not the Apollo program that caused the delay. You need SOME reason for the technical effort. Getting to the moon before the Russians was the political impetus to make the technical effort. Apollo was wildly successful in meeting that goal.

        I’m sure you’re not forgetting what we didn’t know and couldn’t do back then. Elon Musk transported back in time, with all his money and the zero-knowledge he had when he started to conceptualize “Spacex” and cheap access to space could not have designed, built and flown F9’s.

        Plus you have to recall the response when Eisenhower said that Sputnik was no big deal:

        everyone laughed and ignored him. JFK remembered that.
        So if you are JFK are you going to let the Russians beat you to the moon? No you are not. So you are going to run the Race.

        So from our perspective – we who were enthralled kids during Mercury – yeah there was a lamentable delay.

        From a historical time perspective, I think it’s totally insignificant.

    3. are they getting better at mainiting comms for 1st stage landings on the drone ships?

      I’ve always thought there was a bit of theatre here.

  9. It’s hard to understate just how important THIS first stage recovery was to accomplish successfully. Congratulations to SpaceX. May you learn all you need to make Block 5 / Version 6.0 … 6.x a great success.

  10. “To speed up cadence, why not remove the engines and bolt on new or used plus inspected engines and fly. You can inspect the engines you just used without affecting the cadence. It requires having a few more engines on hand. But this way you overlap engine inspections with flights.

    1. That is essentially the Vulcan approach. But I’ve noted a distinct lack of mention of 24 hour turnarounds for Vulcan in ULA pressers. I would not minimize the complexity of plumbing.

      1. Or make first cut inspection as fast and simple as plugging into a diagnostic system and letting it run a few minutes. Something like watching the pattern of ultrasound between several fixed transducers on the engine for signs of new cracks or significant strain.

        1. Yup and Yup! i.e. WordPress will accept the fact that I totally agree with both of the above….

  11. And something else they’ll be amazed by is the utter lack of awareness of the event by most of the media. The whole world was watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I doubt if anyone even cut away to this launch.

    “Meh, another SpaceX launch, NBD.”

    Nice tweetstorm.

    Three reasons why less people watching:

    1) Schedule changes. Regular people can set aside time to watch a launch but scrubs ruin it and then they are less likely to schedule time again.

    2) It’s boring. Often we sit around watching the pregame show, which is boring. It gets more boring if there are delays. The fun stuff is very short but it also isn’t all that remarkable when watching on stream. They went through a lot of effort to choreograph the FH launch to make it entertaining. Maybe it take an earlier meatspace experience to make it fun to watch on stream.

    3) SpaceX has succeeded in making the challenging mundane. If the first two items didn’t exist, there would be more people watching but a lot of people are used to seeing miracles everyday because we live in a time of amazing technological achievements. While SpaceX is making historical achievements, people expect things like this to happen. It is the 21st century after all.

  12. What if you include swapping engines as part of SOP, and just inspect the rest (frame, skin, tanks, etc.)? Launch, and test the engines at your leisure?

    1. That was my idea up above.

      They went to the trouble of making the engine “mounts” a bolt on unit rather than welded on. So I thought that having an already-inspected engine module ready to bolt on would be the fastest solution.

      Others are saying that the plumbing connects/disconnects are non-trivial.

  13. More comments:

    1) With high resuse of the first stage, the cost driver becomes the second stage + fairing (and, to some extent, operations). This suggests that cost/lb. to LEO could be reduced by a completely reusable second stage, even if the payload to orbit was substantially reduced. A small shuttle w. integrated propellant tanks, say.

    Even if SpaceX doesn’t want to develop this, NASA might, with SpaceX providing the very low cost reusable first stage.

    2) If 24 turnaround and relaunch is possible, then short notice first launch should also be possible. The military would be interested in this capability.

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