59 thoughts on “The Falcon Heavy Fairing”

  1. Link to the story found in The Verge that has several fairing interior photos of note as I posted earlier on Usenet’s sci.space.policy:


    Note the complexity of the faring interiors in photos provided by Elon Musk. I noted several what appear to be cylindrical gas cannisters, I presume these are part of the fairing separation mechanism. Also of note what appear to be sound absorbing tiles. Carbon fiber or some type of composite? Given the sophistication as opposed to what has been shown in the past for the Atlas 5 fairing (shown here):


    there seems little wonder why SpaceX is eager to attempt fairing recoveries at sea. I presume these components are at least somewhat impervious to sea water…


      1. Does anybody here know enough about acoustics to explain the difference between the FH and Atlas anechoic chamber-type stuff on the inside of the fairings?

        Thanks for the pics, Dave. Also, does Atlas use pyro separation for the fairing halves?

        1. Sorry PS for the late reply. Holidays, etc. To answer your question a quick search (love those Internets Pipes) of DuckDuckGo got me here in short order: the Atlas V User’s Guide PDF:


          It’s 420 pages. But your question is answered on page 3-31 in section There are essentially two mechanisms, one for the 4m fairing and one for the 5m fairing as described here:

          The Atlas V system accomplishes separation of the 4-
          m PLF using pyrotechnic separation bolts and jettison
          springs. The pyrotechnic bolts on the PLF are located in individual cavities that isolate them from the SC.
          Particle production from PLF jettison springs has
          been tested and is negligible. The 5-m PLF halves are
          separated by a linear pyrotechnic separation system that is fully contained in an expandable bellows. The
          bellows expands forcing the shearing of a rivet line. The sheared rivets are retained by tape. SC contamination from this system is negligible based on the results of analyses and tests

        1. That is pretty neat. Does this mean they will need two ships or can the fairing pieces bang against each other? I guess they might be able to delay one long enough for the first to get secured.

          1. It seems to me like they’d need two boats. The speculation on r/SpaceX is that the fairings have a “smart” half and “dumb” half – this is based on reverse-engineering the recent pictures Elon posted of the FH fairing with his red car – and they’re starting out with recovering just the “smart” half.

  2. I’d assumed that the cylindrical gas canisters were for the cold gas thrusters used to orient the fairing during reentry for recovery attempts, but you bring up a good point. They could also be using pneumatics for fairing unlatching and separation.

  3. If I were a SpaceX engineer, frivolously sending up one of the company’s car products to boost the ego of the mogul owner would probably end up making me a bit less dead serious about the work I was doing. Not a good attitude to have in the ol rocket factory.

    1. Eh, there’s a good deal of hero worship and cult of personality when it comes to Elon. I bet the majority are excited.

          1. I believe the upgraded F9 is enough to orbit a BA330. I’m not going to look it up, but the FH might orbit a BA2100… or bigelow can start designing his BAs to match current lift capabilities as they come online (BFR/BA10k anyone?)

            I see a transit ship being a central core with just enough space for a full complement sleeping and attached engine. Then a double walled bladder for fuel (of very light thin material.) As the fuel is used up, the outer skin provides the volume for people to move around during the voyage to mars orbit.

    2. Well, Elon did say they were going to send up the most ridiculous payload they could think of.

      Personally, I’ve always thought the first Falcon Heavy should send an unmanned Dragon on a circumlunar flight. It would show naysayers that we’re not as far away from being able to go back to the moon as they think. It would also be a good test of Dragon’s heat shield.

      1. That would have been epic! Naysayers claimed it wasn’t possible because the FH needed to fly with a fairing in order to count toward DOD certification, but I don’t believe that it would have been particularly difficult to mount a capsule with trunk on a payload adapter fitting within a fairing.

        1. A Dragon inside a fairing would be the most ridiculous thing, but the roadster would get more press and for two companies rather than one. As for professionalism, take the stick out… every engineer and tech I know loves it and will work even harder with a lighter heart.

          The only topper would be if it was one of his ex-wive’s car!

          1. A Dragon would also be a much more expensive and hard-to-replace piece of hardware than a Tesla roadster.

            Remember: This is a test flight.

        2. It didn’t occur to me that they need to fly with the fairing, and it also didn’t occur to me that they could still fly a Dragon inside the fairing. That actually sounds like a good idea.

    3. It’s more fun than a boring mass simulator. They put in really long hours at SpaceX. Everyone needs to lighten up from time to time.

    4. It looks like it is riding on a pedestal. What clever engineering went into what that will be doing while hanging out for a billion years?

      1. IIRC, their fairings are 5 meters in diameter. I don’t know how long a Tesla sports car is, but it seems likely it wouldn’t fit inside the round fairing if mounted horizontally. Mounting it diagonally on the pedestal would be easier than supporting it lengthwise and likely handles the G loads better.

        1. But will the pedestal have anything inside it? With the tesla becoming a satellite, it would make sense to give it some capabilities other satellites have.

          SpaceX has a history of maximizing every opportunity, so it doesn’t seem likely that the tesla/pedestal wont be doing anything. Taking the silly approach, there could be solar panels to keep the battery charged. And Musk probably wants to keep in touch with his baby so there could be some communications equipment for that.

          I hope there is a surprise.

        2. I would have expected the same, particularly since, according to the Falcon 9 User’s Guide, the internal, usable diameter of the fairing is only 4.6 m. The first generation Roadster is 3.946 m long and 1.873 m wide, but you don’t need to calculate a diagonal because with the curvature of the front and rear bumper the entire car will fit in a circle of diameter equal to the car’s length. So it could fit horizontally within the fairing with over a foot to spare on either end.

          See: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=44375.0;attach=1462473;image

          1. Another possibility for the slant is to align the roadster’s mass along one of the primary axes for better RCS action.

            Over on Usenet it was suggested that the 2nd stage will remain mated to the PLA+Roadster for stability and control as part of the test.

  4. I think they should have gathered up failed Space Startup hardware and put that in orbit…..Armadillo Lander, Xcor Rocket Racer, etc…. (All safely inert ed of course), maybe a scale model of something from Goddard… etc….

    1. They could have offered NASA a chance to test the CEV’s heat shield and parachute system, and if NASA wasn’t too jazzed about the potential success of FH, then perhaps the launch abort rocket. Alas, why should SpaceX help and who at NASA would be smart enough to take this opportunity?

  5. Sure hope they deflated the tires, or at least put on the solid never-run-flat type. Otherwise the Tesla will be even more useless than they are here on Dirt.

  6. Core watchers over at NSF are expecting to see the full Falcon Heavy stack (including the payload and fairing) to roll out today for fit checks.

  7. That Tesla is going to make an awesome museum exhibit in a century or so when someone retrieves it. Assuming the launch goes ok, of course.

    1. This is the riskiest launch to date. The BFR (and perhaps all future designs) will actually be lower risk. Plus, with the BFR I believe they cross a threshold of maximum cost (from now on, leaving out development, costs will only go down.)

      Basically, BFS is the GPS (General Purpose Ship) that I described on this blog years ago (based on FH with second stage replaced by GPS.) It’s the Raptor engine that got us from FH to BFR.

      My GPS would have been smaller than BFS, but would have happened sooner. The thing is, BFR is going to follow FH rather quickly I think (the FH is already obsolete before first flight) so Elon is moving even faster than my imagination… that amazes me.

  8. Could someone explain in terms that a non-rocket-scientist can understand: what is the advantage of the BFR over the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9, even – apparently – for flights that don’t need the full power of the Falcon Heavy?

  9. I’m not a rocket scientist, but here are some mentioned by Musk:

    1) Full re-use both BFR and BFS.
    2) Higher mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO).
    3) BFS can double as a point-to-point suborbital transport. Anywhere to anywhere on Earth in under an hour.

    Personally, this is such a stretch in all dimensions, I still think evolving Red Dragon and the F9H along the lines of a Zubrin Mars Direct approach would be preferable, in the sense that this is more in line with the methodology SpaceX has used before.

    I can understand the eagerness to get the most leverage out of the Raptor engine (methalox) as quickly as possible. But this is a radical departure from the F9 evolved path. However, not totally out of character for SpaceX, after all remember Falcon 1 and Falcon 5? No? Suggest you look them up.

    Still BFS is a big hurdle to pass. BFR less so. Probably will see BFR first. Maybe in a more KSC 39A compatible configuration? If not, then probably launches from Boca Chica thus keeping F9 and F9H LC’s open for business. Until full switch-over.

    1. Also BFS isn’t needed to get to Mars. F9H will do. But Elon seems to be in a hurry. Assuming Mars is an ISRO bootstrap operation BFS will get you there quicker (possibly cheaper), but F9H will also get you there… If you are willing to gamble a bit on ISRO (Mars Direct option) getting you a return trip. The one-way people won’t care about that.

      Still would like to see NASA focus on the gravity lab. Now. If they are looking for a payload for SLS, assuming we are stuck with SLS might as well make it useful if not cost effective. You could put the Ritz Carlton of Gravity Labs in LEO with that… But no we have to have a DSG. Whatever that is useful for…. Maybe if we put it into a controlled roll and keep it in LEO we can make it useful….

      1. Elon is in a hurry because he realizes the huge opportunity cost involved. Sending 4 at a time verse hundreds will slow development for hundreds of years (thousands more likely.) Or forever (a possible Fermi paradox explanation that doesn’t require another alien civilization to be proved.)

    2. still think evolving Red Dragon and the F9H along the lines of a Zubrin Mars Direct approach would be preferable

      The problem with this is the per seat price is too high for colonization. It would certainly work for prospecting missions but how would prospectors get back? Even BFR/BFS don’t bring the per seat price down enough for colonization but would be dramatically cheaper than any other option for NASA.

      For NASA, things will be cheaper than ever but that could lead to making bad decisions in the long term because cheaper for NASA doesn’t mean cheap enough for not-NASA. With limited resources, including time, which is the best route for SpaceX?

      IIRC, someone at SpaceX said that Boca Chica would be used for BFR/BFS and that they would use a barge for landings.

      1. Colonization needs more than a lower cost/seat; it needs good reasons to be on Mars in the first place. Rule of Cool won’t do it.

        BFR/etc. are interesting to me not because of what I consider Mars colonization fantasies, but because of their economic implications for cis-lunar space.

        1. Assuming you are not forced to pay for it the only justification required is people want to go. If their ticket includes about a ton of personal trade goods this means every colonist arrives rich in a frontier where they decide the laws (otherwise known as liberty.) The more it costs to get there, the richer they will be on landing if my plan is followed. I guarantee we could sell every square inch of mars today for $20 a fifth hectare with the only requirement being title is good (which simply requires the backing of a law that could easily be passed. They have been slooowly moving in this direction. They don’t even need this if the colonists simply declare they will enforce good title.)

          The idea that they will have to scratch out a barely existing life is completely wrong because people will not settle when they are shown the alternative.

          It wont be for everyone, but neither is Texas.

        2. Ken Anthony is right, the people going are the ones with the reasons. I like that you said reasons rather than reason because the more reasons to go, the stronger the case. Many people interested in space think there has to be a single reason. When it comes to Mars or cislunar space, there wont be a single activity or reason that makes the effort worthwhile but a group of them.

          One of the key people with a desire to go to Mars is Musk and since he is building the hardware to get there, that removes needing to justify spending money to get there.

          Totally agree with you about cislunar development. Although, many people would say there is no good reason to do this either. SpaceX will need to find a lot of work for the BFR/BFS between launch seasons to Mars. The cool thing is that people interested in cislunar and Mars both get what they want. The cooler thing is that other destinations also open up. Planetary Resources must be very happy.

          1. SpaceX will need to find a lot of work for the BFR/BFS between launch seasons to Mars.

            Considering two things, that should be no problem at all.

            First, BFR will have lower operating costs than FH. So anything on the manifest for FH can transfer to BFR. FH will be phased out before F9.

            Second, BFS gives us capability that has never existed before. We can do orbital exploration with much more diverse and lower cost instruments. Expect a fleet of ships reporting in from numerous places in the inner solar system all at the same time. The Dragon will be transferring research teams to BFSs that never return beyond LEO.

            Model 2 BFS will likely carry more fuel and fewer people? Perhaps it will be the mars (and other places) SSTO landers. Used BFS will be purchased by independent asteroid miners (with HQ on mars?)

  10. what is the advantage of the BFR over the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9

    According to Musk it will simply cost less than both. Even for small packages in the same way that it cost less to fly a jet full of passengers rather than a plane for each passenger.

  11. Even BFR/BFS don’t bring the per seat price down enough for colonization

    Elon’s target ticket price is $200k. BFS will hold up to 100 colonists. Obviously $20m will not pay for a BFS/BFR even with reuse but $200m might?

    They’ll need about 3 tons of supply each (2 during the trip and 1 of personal property on the surface.) I’ll have to look up the payload, but think that’s in range.

    Mars real estate, at $100 / hectare (an auction minimum bid) would pay for the first 722,000 colonists at $2m per ticket giving plenty of time to work on cheaper methods.

    My proposal budgets a maximum of $5m per ticket going lower as the market allows eventually auctioning off semi-developed land (with built in cash flow income.)

    For example, some kid in Venezuela buys a plot for $20 (40 x 50 meters.) Others could not touch his property without either buying it or leasing rights to it. He could have solar panels installed (made ISRU) and collect a monthly income from that. All mineral rights (water, ore, etc.) belong to that kid. He doesn’t even have to pay for the solar panels. He just contracts the price and installation with somebody for the electricity for a term that covers costs. He could have a habitat built to sell to new colonists with payment deferred until arrival. Sell the property and buy a dozen more plots.

    1. Obviously $20m will not pay for a BFS/BFR even with reuse but $200m might?

      Who knows? It depends a lot on the number of reuses and while the BFR will get a lot of work, a BFS working Mars wont.

      IIRC, each BFS requires four support launches of fuel. The cargo version is supposed to deliver 50 tons to the surface of Mars last I heard. Each cargo BFS also requires the four support launches. I am not sure how the supplies for transit fits in but looking at what is landed on Mars requires 15 launches for 100 people and 1 ton of possessions per person. It could be my numbers are not correct.

      Bet let’s pretend they are and that a launch is priced at $100m. That means each person and their ton of cargo will cost $15m. But that is where reuse comes in. Different parts of the system will have a higher number of reuses driving down costs/prices. Could reuse get the price per launch down to $40m? That would put you close to $5m a person and the cargo. Playing around with different scenarios, I think they can and even go lower.

      It becomes more likely if BFS for crew and cargo also have high reuse numbers. Five million is still too high for colonization though. I am not sure that land speculation will self fund settlement, at least in the beginning. Getting reuse numbers dramatically higher means a small fleet doing many launches in a launch season. For that to happen there needs to be two things, space ships to ferry people in the thousands and another fleet of BFS’s on Mars.

      At $15m or $5m a ride for NASA or others with deep pockets, BFR/BFS will be an unprecedented opportunity. Those are prices a society can afford to do prospecting and crash research into ISRU and power generation. For around what we spend on the ISS every year, we could have a hundred people on Mars.

      I like your idea and think it will work in some circumstances but in order to get enough people on Mars to form a thriving local economy and healthy society, the price per ticket needs to be in the hundreds of thousands range if not cheaper.

      1. Long term you are absolutely right. Short term (the first few hundred) will be at a loss. My plan really kicks in after about five years after first colonization where at$2m to $5m it will completely pay those tickets for the first million. Originally I thought red Dragon (at 2 tons) would spend about ten years sending supplies before the first colonist landing, but BFS could do that in one flight.

        AND… the more people we send the more land values will appreciate. To the point I believe that the limiting factor will be colonist transfer rate rather than ticket price. I consider a million colonists to be the least number my plan pays for with tens of millions more likely. Managed properly, it could be evergreen.

        I agree about the initial cost being about $20m per (I never bought into his initial $500k per which is why I capped what my plan would pay for to $5m with the expectation it would go down with competition) but do think $2m per is achievable.

        Which is to say BFS/BFR is a good start and hopefully competition will get us the rest of the way.

        I also think long term the correct approach is three ships rather than one BFS. One optimized to get many people to a transfer station in orbit (or the actual huge transfer ship of thousands of passengers.) The third ship being a fleet of mars SSTO (perhaps 20 passengers?) to transfer orbiting colonists to the surface. This would have the disadvantage of keeping colonists in microgravity longer (economy class.)

        The one modification to BFS/BFR I would do early is a depot in orbit which could be a fuel BFS that remains in orbit with a large fuel bladder so passengers would not be delayed too long in orbit (both in earth and mars orbit… not quite luxury class?)

        1. Initially a BFS could operate as a mars SSTO but is really not optimal for that role. The transfer ship would be a huge inflatable that would go up once on existing launchers (BA330 or BA2100 is too over engineered and heavy for this.)

          I expect different companies at different price points and transit times would compete for the huge inter-orbit transfer ship. Second would be the earth assent vehicles. Last to compete would be the mars SSTO which would stabilize on a single close to optimal design (being manufactured on earth and each sent once unmanned to mars.)

          1. Initially a BFS could operate as a mars SSTO but is really not optimal for that role.

            How so and what would make it more optimal?

            It will be really exciting to see what habitat manufacturers do in the next fifteen years. Same with people who want space based production facilities.

            Here is a what if. Early versions of a cargo based BFS might not be capable of high reuse for whatever reasons. But what if instead of using it as a lawn ornament, it was left in space as a workshop?

          2. You have 3 distinct operating environments getting between Earth and Mars:
            – Earth surface to orbit, and back
            – Earth orbit to Mars orbit, and back
            – Mars orbit to surface, and back
            A ship designed to service all 3 of these segments will be less than optimal on at least 2 of them.

          3. How so and what would make it more optimal?

            Wodun, what peterh said. In particular, a SSTO lander doesn’t need the cargo space so it can be made smaller and lighter. It doesn’t need to transfer the full 100 people from BFS in one load since some (especially early missions) will have a greater ratio of cargo to people. I’m thinking 20-25 people is about the right size for a lander. Plus it’s safer to land with more fuel duration and distributing the crew among several ships. Landing is much more dangerous than just traveling between planets.

            However, the BFS is fine early on. It will land in part to refuel, but later would just stay in mars orbit to refuel from a depot. The BFS is great as a general purpose ship so will probably have a good used market. With upgrades, it will probably be around for a long time (unlike the FH.) Specialized ships however, will eventually fill in all the local niches.

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