SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 version 1.1 is 60 percent longer than the company’s five previous Falcon 9 boosters. Its launch is scheduled for Sept. 14.
The rocket’s extension, which makes it more susceptible to bending during flight, is the most visible of several upgrades intended to increase the booster’s lift capacity and simplify operations.
In addition to a new 5-meter payload fairing, the rocket has upgraded avionics and software as well as a new stage-separation system that cuts the number of attachment points from 12 to three.
Because it is a demonstration mission, SpaceX offered launch services at a cut-rate price. MDA Corp. of Canada bought the ride for its 500-kilogram Cassiope spacecraft, built in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency and Technology Partnerships Canada.
“Cassiope is a very small satellite. It takes up just a tiny fraction of the volume of the fairing. They paid, I think, maybe 20 percent of the normal price of the mission,” he added.
Once the payloads are put into orbit, SpaceX may try to restart the rocket’s upper-stage motor, depending on how much fuel is left. Also on tap is a highly experimental restart of the Falcon’s boost stage to slow its crash landing into the sea.
“Just before we hit the ocean, we’re going to relight the engine and see if we can mitigate the landing velocity to the point where the stage could potentially be recovered, but I give this maybe a 10 percent chance of success,” Musk said.
In a related program called Grasshopper, SpaceX has been developing a booster stage that can fly itself back to a launch pad.
“We’ve never attempted to land Grasshopper on water. We don’t know if the radar system will detect the water surface level accurately. We don’t know all sorts of things, so I really give it a very tiny chance of success. But we’re going to see what data we can learn,” Musk said.
Eventually, Musk hopes to outfit the Falcon rockets with landing legs and offer a discount launch service on used rockets.
“Ultimately, I think we could see a drop in cost per launch of 25 percent or more, just from reuse of the boost stage,” he said.
Having all three stages reusable would enable costs to be lower by ten to 100 times.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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