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Musk: 100 Launches Per Falcon 9 Block 5 Booster is Possible

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 10, 2018
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The first Falcon 9 Block 5 booster heads for the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk had a teleconference today concerning the Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle prior to the planned first flight of the upgraded booster. The launch, which would have orbited the Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite for Bangladesh, was scrubbed for an undisclosed technical reason. SpaceX plans to try again on Friday at 4:14 p.m. EDT.

Below are notes from Musk’s teleconference about the upgraded booster and SpaceX’s future plans.

Falcon 9 Block 5 Operational Plans

  • Falcon 9 Block 5 is last major revision of booster – some additional minor changes likely
  • Should really be called Falcon 9 Block 6
  • Aiming for aircraft-style operations with no unnecessary actions between flights
  • New booster will be capable of 100 flights with service every 10 flights
  • Will not refly the first stage on the Bangabandhu 1 launch for many months
  • Need to disassemble the stage to confirm design assumptions
  • Expect third or fourth Block 5 reflight in 2018, 10th reflight next year
  • 30-50 Block 5’s will be available in rotation for launches
  • Falcon 9 Block 5s could see 300 or more flights before retired for Big Falcon Rocket (BFR)
  • Wants to launch same booster within 24 hours in 2019
  • Charging $60 million for new Falcon 9 boosters, $50 million for flight-proven rockets
  • Limits to how low SpaceX can go on Falcon 9 costs – need revenues to cover cost of developing BFR and Starlink satellite Internet constellation
  • Falcon 9 cost breakdown: booster, 60%; second stage, 20%; fairing, 10 percent; launch, 10 percent.
  • Propellant ranges from $300,000 to $400,000 depending upon how one calculates it
  • Company has been monitoring reentry data for second stage
  • Believes second stage can be recovered and reused
  • There are cost and mission considerations – don’t want to introduce risks into the launch ascent phase

Falcon 9 Block 5 Improvements

  • Merlin 1D engines 8 percent more powerful
  • Could possibly squeeze more power out of them
  • New thermal protection material designed by SpaceX that does not require paint
  • Titanium grid fins now standard – can withstand 2,000 F without maintenance between flights
  • Strengthened octoweb that holds nine first-stage engines
  • Improved payload fairing 2.0 will fly on the  Bangabandhu 1 launch but there will be no attempt at recovery because boat is in California
  • Stage 2 on this launch has a Block 5 engine but will operate like Block 4 engine during this flight

Human-rating Requirements for Dragon 2

  • Rocket is same configuration that will be used to fly NASA crews to ISS
  • Booster designed to meet all NASA human-rating requirements
  • Falcon 9 Block 5 has to be over designed by 40 percent to meet human-rating requirements
  • Booster has a lot of redundancy
  • Many thousands of requirements for human rating
  • Designed to be the most reliable rocket ever built
  • “load and go” concerns – where crew is placed aboard and then rocket is fueld – are overblown
  • can load propellant first and then put crew aboard, but don’t believe it will be necessary