While tomorrow’s SpaceX launch will be a routine satellite mission, it won’t be using an ordinary rocket. The launch tomorrow will be the debut of the Block 5 Falcon 9 – marking one of the first real tests of the rocket’s re-usability.
While SpaceX has revolutionized the space industry and shown that private companies, given adequate resources, can meet and even surpass the efforts of government organizations like NASA, there’s one main factor that makes space travel less than accessible: cost.
In order to get a rocket into space, you’re looking at millions and millions of dollars. Between specialized equipment and the personnel required to get the rocket into space and back down safely again, the costs quickly become prohibitively expensive – something that SpaceX is hoping to address with the introduction of the Block 5 Falcon 9.
The Block 5 Falcon 9 is intended to be reusable not just once, but up to 100 times, discounting the price of a space mission significantly. While initial testing of the Block 5 Falcon 9 has proven positive the launch tomorrow will be the first real demonstration of the rocket’s ability to be reused as needed and perhaps make commercial – and even space tourist – travel in the future much more economical.
While the company’s space landings have been huge affairs and generally quite successful, they have also been quite expensive. SpaceX does have a significant amount of resources, but if they’re to start turning a significant profit they’ll need to come up with a way to cut down costs, which should hopefully be the result of the Black 5 Falcon 9.
Targeting Falcon 9 Block 5 launch of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 on May 10 from Pad 39A in Florida.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 7, 2018
The Block 5 Falcon 9 is mainly going to accomplish its goal through the number of upgrades it has over previous models. For example, the grid fins that are used to steer the rocket back from space are made out of titanium – allowing them to accomplish their job without catching on fire as they descend back down to Earth.
The engines also feature new heat shielding technology in order to protect them from the high temperatures the Block 5 Falcon 9 will be subjected to upon reentry. The structure that holds the engines to the rockets is also now bolted down rather than welded, allowing it to be more easily taken apart and inspected in preparation for another launch.
All of the parts of the Block 5 Falcon 9 are optimized for turnaround time. Not only will the SpaceX rocket be able to be used multiple times, but the launch turnaround should be cut down to a couple of weeks rather than the several months it currently takes the company to prepare in between launches. This means we should see more flights happening more quickly, which will overall make it easier for both private businesses and governmental agencies to get into space.
While we’re not nearly at a point where space travel is economical for the average joe, developing technology like the Block 5 Falcon 9 may be the first step towards a future where launching into orbit isn’t the same prohibitively expensive affair that it has been to date.
While the launch of the Block 5 Falcon 9 is no doubt exciting, it’s important to keep our expectations in check. Musk has a bit of a history of overpromising when it comes to his companies and their achievements, and that 100-time reusability he claims or the Block 5 Falcon 9 may more realistically be around 10 uses.
There’s certainly a possibility that the usability could exceed that number, but considering that these rockets go faster than the speed of sound and are subjected to extreme temperatures and other forces, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the same Block 5 Falcon 9 used 100 launches into the future.
It remains to be seen how successful the Block 5 Falcon 9 truly is, but considering the track record of SpaceX and the innovation they’ve shown thus far, there’s certainly a possibility that such an invention could revolutionize space travel as we know it – bringing Musk one step closer to a journey to Mars and making it easier to launch various spacecraft in general.