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SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 85

Thelasko shares a report from The Verge: This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version yet of its Falcon 9 rocket, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-named Block 5 upgrade took off from the company's launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, sending a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh and then touched down on one of the company's drone ships in the Atlantic. It was the 25th successful rocket landing for SpaceX, and the 14th on one of the company's drone ships.

It also marks the first launch of the Block 5, the vehicle that will carry humans to space for NASA. The Block 5 is meant to be SpaceX's most reusable rocket yet, with many upgrades put in place that negate the need for extensive refurbishment between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 rockets will eventually be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance after landings, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, once one of these rocket lands, SpaceX will turn it horizontal, attach a new upper stage and nose cone on top, turn it vertical on the launchpad, fill it with propellant, and then launch it again. Musk noted that the vehicles would need some kind of moderate maintenance after the 10-flight mark, but it's possible that each rocket could fly up to 100 times in total.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket

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  • by apoc.famine ( 621563 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .enimaf.copa.> on Friday May 11, 2018 @08:08PM (#56598934) Journal

    Launch went off mostly flawlessly, except for the non-unexpected live camera feed issues. I remain amazed that they're able to do a live feed up to space and back as it is, so I can't complain too much. Expecting perfection there is asking a bit much, I think.

    If this rocket performs as expected, it really is the game-changer that SpaceX is designed it to be. They're already out-competing everyone on launch costs. If they can really do a 24 hr turnaround on the same rocket? Holy. Shit.

    Musk is always late on his predictions, but goddamn does he keep eventually getting there. I'm really blown away by this, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They're already out-competing everyone on launch costs.

      Yes, and they are talking about hitting $6m marginal launch cost with S2 recovery. That means they can either kick the floor out from under every other provider by an order of magnitude, or more likely, undercut other providers slightly will being enormously more profitable, to fold the extra profits into the BFR.

      • SpaceX fans are all closet accountants. The rest of us don't care how much it costs to put yet another communication satellite in orbit.
        • by haruchai ( 17472 )

          SpaceX fans are all closet accountants. The rest of us don't care how much it costs to put yet another communication satellite in orbit.

          The accountants who work for the people who want those satellites launched for less are not in the closet.

        • by ElizabethGreene ( 1185405 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @09:56PM (#56599252)

          > The rest of us don't care how much it costs to put yet another communication satellite in orbit.

          The rest of us must not have an imagination then. Space Tourism is /already/ a thing, and space colonies won't be far behind. Maybe you don't want to go; that's completely your prerogative. That said, I have no desire to live on this planet anymore. This guy is knocking zeroes off of the cost of getting to orbit, and that's a hugely exciting thing in moving towards that goal.

          • In fact, I would say that the biggest issue is not Launch Costs, but CONgress forcing NASA to waste BILLIONS on SLS/Orion each year. We have already thrown $32B down the drain with it. At this time, I would love to see NASA kill off SLS, give it to the companies that worked on it, and then allow for private space to bid for sending cargo to EML1, along with doing 2 private space station contracts. With 2B / year, we could have a base set-up on the poles within 3-5 years.
        • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <robert.merkel@noSpaM.benambra.org> on Saturday May 12, 2018 @01:28AM (#56599684) Homepage
          Nice troll.

          For everyone else watching at home, if they can really reduce launch costs to a few million bucks a launch, it will enable a whole lot of things that currently can't be done.

          For instance:

          • Affordable broadband low-latency internet access from massive LEO satellite constallations.
          • whole constellations of imagery satellites. Want a real-time video feed of something from space? It might just be possible for organizations other than the US government now.
          • Mass-produced space probes. If it's only going to cost $6 million a pop to launch rather than $100 million, it might be worth producing a couple of dozen rather than two, and the unit cost will go down a great deal. Imagine what we could learn about Mars with dozens of rovers roaming the surface!
          • Startups experimenting with new space technology. At 6 million a pop, VCs might be able to fund you if your plan involves launching a payload into space. At 100 million, forget it.

          So even leaving out the more out-there humans-in-space stuff, there is a great deal to be excited by if SpaceX can really launch this cheap.

        • The rest of us don't care how much it costs to put yet another communication satellite in orbit.

          If you mean that you don't care about competition in the telco market, I take it you work for Comcast or something. Boooo! :-p

        • Given that future of space tech directly depends on cost of getting stuff up there, any self respecting nerd should care about it. Or maybe you don't give two shits about space, but then why are you on /. to begin with?
        • The rest of us don't care how much it costs to put yet another communication satellite in orbit.

          You don't have internet? You don't have TV, phone service, etc? Or you don't want those things to become better and cheaper? You don't even want better communication in disaster recovery situations? Pretty sure you're in the minority, the rest of us are pretty excited about cheaper communications satellites.

        • Yes, it is obvious that with you backing the SLS/Orion along with Atlas/Delta, that you really do NOT care how much money America throws away.
          For the rest of us, we understand that it is all about economics of launch and exploration that gives us the ability to do things. .
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @11:05PM (#56599422) Homepage

        Maybe I'm alone in this, but what I look forward most to, concerning such low launch costs?

        Mass produced probes.

        If NASA comes to grips with launch costs being this cheap (something that they never seem to do in their planning, always budgeting at ULA rates), it'll become obvious that the next logical step is not to produce probes in 1s or 2s, but by the hundreds. Mass production means low unit costs. And they can let their probe mass budgets rise (aka, build them cheap rather than spending a fortune trying to shave grams off on every last part). Forget RTGs with expensive 238Pu - use cheap 90Sr or 241Am, or just huge solar arrays. Switch from "failure is not an option" to "meh, as long as 90+% of them make it..." as a guiding principle.

        Over the course of our lifetimes, we can transform our solar system from a huge expanse of "unknown" with tiny spots of "known", to a huge expanse of "known" where we're just filling in ever-smaller gaps.

        • So many asteroids to explore, so little time!
        • Well, that is what starlink is all about. He is setting that up so that the sats are built robotically AND the line can then add different items to a sat.

          Right now, so much of old space is focused on BEGGING money from CONgress to make a few $, while Musk is changing the world. OLD space needs to change quickly and invest in themselves, or simply sell out to somebody else.
        • If NASA comes to grips with launch costs being this cheap (something that they never seem to do in their planning, always budgeting at ULA rates), it'll become obvious that the next logical step is not to produce probes in 1s or 2s, but by the hundreds.

          That's only "obvious" to cargo cultists who don't actually know what they're talking about. What you (and a lot of your fellow cultists) don't grasp - there isn't anywhere where hundreds of identical probes are useful. Nor do you grasp that probes are desig

      • The goal is actually to vastly grow the market by lowering the price to a point that many more companies become interested in a launch. If they're right about the demand that would materialize at lower prices, they can give up a lot of profit on each flight by vastly underbidding their nearest competitor but still make more profit overall on volume.

      • Actually, they are already at half a magnitude. $6 million would make it 1.5 magniture. If they can go from $150-300 / launch down to $15-30 million for 20 tonnes, They will own all commercial launch for at least a decade, and depending on CONgress, it COULD really restart our lunar exploration. The fact that we continue to throw BILLIONS at SLS/Orion is just sick, but if Musk gets this down to say 30 million for F9 AND $50 million for say 50 tonnes on FH, it will be extremely hard for CONgress to continue
    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @09:07PM (#56599118) Homepage

      If this rocket performs as expected, it really is the game-changer that SpaceX is designed it to be. They're already out-competing everyone on launch costs. If they can really do a 24 hr turnaround on the same rocket? Holy. Shit.

      That part is almost insignificant, the question is how many times it'll fly or if ten is another Elon estimate of what it might possibly do sometime in the remote future, I mean he's been throwing around numbers like 10, 100 even 1000 reuses in his Mars plans but so far nothing has been re-flown more than once. Now the most aggressive schedule would be to say we're putting the pedal to the metal and sending it out there as quickly and often as possible, but I doubt it'll happen quite that way because there's customer payloads at risk every time it goes up.

      Then again, if Musk has Starlink ready to go maybe he'll say this is now an in-house risk and we're making this a quasi-experimental 3rd-10th launch that won't kill our reputation as a launch provider. It certainly wouldn't get any more "eat your own dog food" than that. The satellites should be in mass production anyway so as long as the rocket clears the launch site it's probably not that big a blow if it turns into a fireworks show on the 6th launch. He could just do another space is hard, we're pushing the boundaries, failure is permitted here and I think most would buy it. And if it doesn't blow up, well all the better.

      • An early network tech genius explained measurable results this way - " The technology revolution has nothing to do whether it happens 1x, 10x or 100x faster " The revolution is when technology enables you to do something today" - David Mathews.

        You are absolutely right about the false premise of 24hr turnaround. Its not about how fast a turnaround but the revolution is being able to fly again, again, again, again, again, again...cheap, cheap, cheap, cheaper etc...

        • You are absolutely right about the false premise of 24hr turnaround. Its not about how fast a turnaround but the revolution is being able to fly again, again, again, again, again, again...cheap, cheap, cheap, cheaper etc...

          Except that they're related. If you can turn your rocket around in 24 hours it means inspection and repair requirements are minimal. Which means damage from re-entry is minimal. Which means you can re-use it more often, with less money spent on inspection and repair. Or, in your terms, "again, again, again, cheap, cheap, cheap".

      • by crow ( 16139 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @09:34PM (#56599196) Homepage Journal

        Exactly!

        The cost per launch (not price per launch) is what makes Starlink possible.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        They're talking about 12,000 satellites! (A few less than that, but they'll probably have to replace a few that fail.) And they're looking at a 5-7 year lifespan per satellite, which means once it's up and running, it will require putting up another 2,000 satellites per year. Even if they can do 20 satellites per launch, that's still a hundred launches per year. For reference, there were only 90 launches last year, and that's counting every launch by every country and company.

        https://space.stackexchange.co... [stackexchange.com]

        Estimates are that the Falcon 9 could lift 24 Starlink satellites per launch. The Falcon Heavy could get up to 67. The BFR could deploy over 300 per launch. Considering the need to deploy to different orbits, the Falcon 9 is probably the way to go.

        Once they get serious about Starlink, they'll probably start adding a few to every launch that has excess capacity. (And by "serious" I mean having gotten the satellites in real production.)

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          BFR is designed for orbital maneuvers with long-term propellant storage, so it should be able to deploy to multiple orbits, so long as the delta-V requirements aren't too great.

          That said, one needs to apply standard Musk Time correction factors to BFR's timeline. I expect F9 and FH to be what most or all of Starlink is launched with.

        • hey're talking about 12,000 satellites!

          This is Musk. The first ten thousand satellites will take twenty years and all be *tests* - but after that, things'll proceed swimmingly; I expect each "Big Fucking Starlink Satellite" to provide facilities for at least fifty thousand space colonists.

        • Actually, they MIGHT add a few starlinks to launches ONCE they have the initial 12,000 up, but, they have to have the ENTIRE 12,000 up there in the next couple of years. It is something like 3 or 5 years. And IIRC, the timer has already started due to their launching the test sats. IOW, they are going to start with F9 launches for early next year, and before end of 2019, they will be launching with FH at least monthly until BFR comes on-line.
      • The main reason no booster has flown 3 times yet is that they've been obsoleted by new versions before they've had a chance. They have to improve launch cadence. If they can do 100+ missions a year then it starts to make sense to re-fly a booster 10 times. Probably have to have a thousand launches a year for 24 hour turnaround to make sense, so that won't be happening for a long time.

        The expectation with Block 5 is 10 launches with minimal inspection/refurbishment (because risk is considered low for the fir

      • take it further. Starlink can be used around the moon and mars for total communications, along with other science projects.
        He really is about to do for space what USSR/America space race did.
        Now, it is time for ppl to start screaming at our CONgress critters to quit wasting our money.
    • Not the same rocket, but same first stage. So far, they have not captured the second stage. Still, 2'nd stage is pretty cheap compared to first.
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @08:20PM (#56598986) Homepage

    What's this "turn it horizontal" nonsense about? There's no time for that!

    A properly reusable rocket should just require a new upper stage to be lowered into place on top of the just-landed/still-vertical first stage, a quick 5-minute refuel, and then back to work!

    If SpaceX can't get shorter turnaround times than Southwest, then what's the point? ;)

  • Looks like SX is headed in the right direction. Hopefully, they get Dragon 2 on track and launch crew this year.
  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @09:32PM (#56599190) Journal
    Six more good flights for the manned-flight rating! Go SpaceX! This company exemplifies how to make America great again!
  • Museum pieces (Score:4, Informative)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @04:59AM (#56599992) Journal

    SpaceX have adopted a policy that any pre-block 5 booster will fly at most twice, and so have not been landing pre-loved boosters (called "flight proven" in SpaceX's spin.) All these boosters which would make wonderful museum pieces are being discarded into the ocean.

    However, there are a few flown boosters which have not been lost. The first booster to successfully land is on display outside SpaceX's headquarters. The two side boosters from the Falcon Heavy launch were previously flown and have been recovered. I think the first booster to fly a second time was recovered, as this was before the don't-recover-used-boosters policy came into effect.

    Am I correct on all these? Are there any other recovered twice-flown boosters? Does anyone know what SpaceX intends to do with them? Can I hope to see any of them in a museum one day?

    • There are very few museums with the space or the monetary resources to buy, transport and house a 230 foot booster. So no need to save up dozens.

    • If SpaceX has the capacity to recover the booster but is just letting it burn up for economic reasons its just littering and they need to be hit with a littering fine. Sure it was considered OK to do so when noone thought boosters could be recovered just as public defecation was OK when their was no indoor plumbing. But now we have toilets.
      To make it fair and to give a kick in the backsides of the competitors all launches which dont recover their boosters should be hit with a littering fine.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They have used almost all of the discarded boosters for either launches where a landing was never viable (e.g. GTO), or for experiments like testing a three engine landing burn.

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