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

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

  • ThomasLMatula

    Looks like SpaceX just moved the bar up a few notches 🙂

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Musk just clarified that he has a turbocharger on his steamroller.

  • Michael Halpern

    No, he upped it from insane mode to Ludacris speed, when BFR starts flying it will be at maximum plaid.

  • therealdmt

    “…some additional minor changes likely
    Should really be called Falcon 9 Block 6”

    I was waiting for that 🙂

  • SamuelRoman13

    30-50 I thought maybe 10. Let’s see. Which tail number was I suppose to find in this warehouse? He sure is optimistic.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Exactly. There should be a pool of how many launches until Block 5 is replaced by Block 6. I’m thinking in the 50-60 range at most. 100 launches for a single design will never happen at SpaceX.

  • Lee

    And it’s never happened with any other rocket, either. All boosters go through evolutionary changes over time. The difference is that ULA doesn’t really tell you about it. SX does. It always amuses me when people complain about SpaceX constantly changing things. This implies that the ULA boosters have been flying for years without any changes at all. That is not the case in any way.

    Are SX’s changes to F9 larger than those to the current Atlas and Delta IV? Yes. However, if you go back far enough, you’ll find that every new rocket goes through big evolutionary changes.

  • Panice

    Musk is usually optimistic on schedule, but conservative on technical performance. If he says they could fly 100 times, I wouldn’t bet against him.

  • Michael Halpern

    Been doing some back of the envelope math, and just with flight proven boosters at that price, they could be getting somewhere around $18m more profit on flight proven block 5s each launch, add fairings into that and it could be up to $23m on top of the profit margin from new boosters. That’s insane.

  • windbourne

    No, thats great.
    They have to pay for all that R&D that they have done on this.

  • windbourne

    actually, I am hoping that it is NOT at max plaid.

  • windbourne

    lol.
    And you are being conservative in how you describe him.

  • windbourne

    I am guessing 0.
    I think that as long as B5 is doing fine, that he will remain focused on first Dragon 2, and then everything on BFR.
    About the only thing I could see him doing is trying to figure out how to get second stage back.

  • Michael Halpern

    I know it’s great but that’s an insanely huge profit margin for the least expensive medium to heavy lifter in the world, i am basing my numbers on the Fairings being $5m btw

  • Michael Halpern

    Well Max Plaid for the life of the SLS program,

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep, but it will still undercut everyone else! And remember, he is going to be undercutting everyone on Commercial Cargo while raising his price to NASA by 50% to pay for his BFR.

    Which is exactly how free market capitalism works!

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    As long as Bezos doesn’t stop by and throw some raspberry jam into the works.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Tend to agree but Musk can’t help himself sometimes, see S2 recovery project. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Block 5+ shows up at some point.

  • Michael Halpern

    BFR is more exciting and S2 recovery is actually something that can be considered research for BFR

  • Terry Stetler

    And in the pre-flight presser Musk confirmed their Brownsville Texas launch site will be for BFR & BFS.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    NASA ask for the 50% price increase by selecting the Dragon 2 for CRS2 with automated docking. It is a lot more expensive than a berthing spacecraft. But that is offset by not using up valuable crew time bring in the spacecraft manually with the manipulator arm both at the ISS and on the ground.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    SpaceX can always upgraded the Falcon 9 with a de-rated Raptor powered composite upper stage while keeping the Block 5 core as is.

  • windbourne

    Oh, very little doubt that he loves changing thing. But he is also relatively easily bored ( perhaps the real meaning of TBC ). F1e, F5, come quickly to mind. In addition, DOD and NASA crew also come to mind. Finally BFR. Once Dragon 2 is certified, I think all of musk attention will be BFR with side updates happening to Dragon 2. I suspect that the cost of updating B5, ESP. first stage will be very high by NASA and DoD. Enough to force him away.

  • windbourne

    And for testing purposes he might do just that.

  • ThomasLMatula

    As if they will be doing something else beside monitoring it. Also I expect the software doesn’t cost that much to add. But it does indeed give SpaceX the opportunity to get more profits for BFR.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Just a thought about the Falcon 9 Block 5. If SpaceX builds 30 as planned and they are good for a 100 flights each that will equal 3,000 launches. Even at a rate of 100 launches a year that implies they will be around for decades.

    But most likely they will only get to do about 20-25 flights each before BFR takes over.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    It’s the paperwork to certified that said software that is expensive. Every NASA requested change requires moving mountains of paper with a lot of paper pushers.

  • Michael Halpern

    Not sure if the expansion nossel of Raptor Vac will fit in the interstage,

  • David Williams

    Unless the BFR is super delayed, I could only just see each core in the block 5 fleet of 30-50 averaging 10 flights (i.e. 300-500 launches for the black 5 fleet). Assuming they complete their planned launch manifest this year and then ramp up to 50 launches next year. Are they going to be completing 100 launches a year in 2020-2022. Will even Starlink require that number of launches?

  • Paul451

    A certain number of launches will require expendable cores, and a certain number of customers insist on unused cores. Both increase the number of cores required for any given number of launches. (Though hopefully they’ll be reasonably in sync.)

  • Zed_WEASEL

    If they fly a Raptor on a Falcon 9 upper stage. That stage will have roughly the same diameter as the payload fairing since Methane is less dense than kerosene. So the Raptor Vac exhaust nozzle will fitted unless it is over 4.5 meter in diameter.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Given a choice of a cheaper and more readily available flown core and a more expensive newly build core that have to be wait for. Most, if not all commercial customers will take the quicker and cheaper option. They loss money when their birds are sitting on ground in a clean room.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yes but they aren’t all certain about used cores particularly not USAF and (at least for crew) NASA, USAF has to determine a booster recertification process, and while NASA is comfortable flying cargo on used cores, that might not be true for crew until the second half of CCP operational missions

  • Michael Halpern

    A large part of it is suspected that SpaceX underbid on CRS-1 D2 has more volume and really the problem is insisting on keeping D1 available rather than letting them consolidate to just one orbiter.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    What does USAF and NASA have to do with commercial comsat launches? Even then, SpaceX could just let the USAF and NASA test fly unflown cores for a premium. So everyone else get a price reduction on flown cores.

  • Michael Halpern

    They will effect how many boosters they have to make

  • Zed_WEASEL

    NASA needs the Cargo Dragon with the large CBM port. Internal pressurized volume is about the same with both variants. Think there is slightly more volume in the Dragon 2 trunk for non-pressurized cargo.

    The CRS2 contract was under FAR regulations not a Space Act Agreement. So more paperwork and personnel. AIUI the Congressional critters insists on using FAR instead of the previous Space Act Agreement with the CRS1 contract.

  • Michael Halpern

    pressurized volume is about 50% more on Dragon 2.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Where did you get that reference? AFAIK both versions of the Dragons have internal pressurized volume of about 10 cubic meters.

  • Michael Halpern

    either its more volume or its laid out such that they can get 50% more stuff into it,

  • publiusr

    I’ll split the difference and say 20.