Never content to sit idly by and allow would-be competitors to play catch-up, SpaceX has been hard at work on a new Falcon model code named the ‘Block 5’. Improvements include:
7-8% more thrust from the engines
an improved flight control system for an optimized angle of attack on the descent
a reusable heat shield protecting the engines and plumbing at the base of the rocket
a set of black retractable landing legs for rapid recovery and shipping
…and plenty more features guaranteed to make this another superstar of a rocket.
After months of careful testing, a launch date for the first Block 5 flight has been announced of April 24th. Many things can cause such a window to be adjusted, but that one will go on the calendar and hopefully demo to us all that new and improved platform!
Are you interested to learn more about the robot boats (officially ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships’ or ASDS) that are part of the SpaceX fleet, whose primary mission is to facilitate the recovery of rocket first-stages at sea? Of course you are! So am I! The scope and breadth of what it means for a company to pursue a single minded goal, and to invent from whole-cloth anything they may require to get there is evident in so many aspects of the SpaceX operation. One small corner of that process – which could easily masquerade as an entire industry on its own – are the autonomous drone ships. Delightfully named after craft in the Iain M. Banks Culture series of novels, these ships contain their share of tech which should make other industries blush at the audacity of no-holds-barred, forward thinking innovation.
This will be the first of a multi-part series that dives into the known technology behind the drone ships, and today we will start with the engines.
Each of the football-field-sized ships (“Just Read the Instructions” stationed at the Port of LA, “Of Course I Still Love You” and the under construction “A Shortfall of Gravitas” based out of Port Canaveral) are driven by four diesel powered azimuth thrusters made by Thrustmaster. These marine propellers are designed to be rotated to any angle, allowing for high precision steering and the elimination of the rudder.
While it isn’t clear yet which model is being used on the ASDS, a likely candidate is the Bottom Mounted L-Drive Azimuthing Thruster, which specializes in absolute positioning capability for offshore supply vessels.
Their largest model of this line is the TH10000ML with an 8000 kW motor. Operating at a peak of 720 RPM, this drive is capable of generating 1337 kN of thrust and weighs in at a remarkable 194,006lbs. I like to imagine that there are 4 of these beasts under each recovery platform, and there are suggestions that these main engines are further assisted by additional smaller drive systems, all computer synchronized and coordinated with a proprietary GPS system.
The design specification of the SpaceX vessels, which are based on Marmac barge hulls, is that they must be capable of precision positioning within 3 meters even under storm conditions at sea. Imagine, keeping this floating platform stable enough to vertically land a rocket, then keep it steady enough to not simply tip over before it is secured through a combination of robotic and human assistants (the subject of a future article).
Notes: propclubjax.com – Captain’s Corner: SPACEX – The World’s First Rocket Recovery Vessel
Fox Trot Alpha – SpaceX’s Landing Drone Ship Is Just As Complicated As The Rocket
Take note, SpaceX fans, that the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners has just approved a plan by SpaceX to lease an 18-acre site at the Port and a 200,000 square-foot space to be used for manufacturing. I think we have our BFR production facility, and things could hardly be more exciting! This space is right next to where everyone’s favorite drone ship, the Of Course I Still Love You, is docked and ready to be mustered into action. Looks like a brand new space-coast is emerging!
Elon Musk wants us all to be able to wake up in the morning and have something grand to look forward to. Well, he is single-handedly making that happen for many of us with his constant output of exciting work. This bright Monday morning we can have a look at a sizzle reel featuring crewed transport on their Dragon launch system, and more about their snazzy spacesuits. I especially like the very last scene!
The Westworld team, and everyone’s favorite savior of mankind Elon Musk have released a beautiful short video commemorating the incredible and wildly successful Falcon Heavy launch on February 6th 2018. It is most definitely worth a watch, and there is even a short clip of the center booster missing the OCISLU drone ship, which is transparency we can all appreciate. No matter how often I replay the events of that launch in my head, it remains amazing and so very important.
Any day where I can wake up and watch a successful rocket launch that took place earlier that morning delights me by proving we, as a people, are doing at least one thing right. This was the historic 50th Falcon 9 launch by SpaceX and Elon Musk (founder, CEO, lead designer, savior of mankind) and as we have already grown to expect, it went off without a hitch.
Unfortunately storm conditions and very high seas prevented everyone’s favorite drone ship, the “Of Course I Still Love You” from retrieving the first stage, which had to be abandoned to the sea. However, the mission was a success, and Hispasat 30W-6 was placed into geosynchronous transfer orbit, there to provide telecommunication services to areas around the globe.
Please check out the excellent article over at newatlas.com for more details!
“The UAE hopes to become the first Arab state to send a mission to the red planet, by designing, developing, manufacturing and eventually controlling a probe. The country doesn’t have its own rocket technology so it will have to rely on companies such as Mitsubishi (MSBHY) or Musk’s SpaceX to carry the payload into space.”
Exciting to see Dubai and the UAE throwing their support into the ring. They are people who understand the important places to spend effort and capital, and have correctly identified this as the next big thing!
Watch the perfect and exhilarating liftoff of the Falcon 9 this morning, and (spoiler) flawless deployment of the payload.
This was an older model booster, not capable of landing, so no recovery on this one, but going forward you can bet that is something we will see on nearly all missions. They did, however, try to catch the fairing with Mr. Steven (another spectacular boat name) but missed by a few hundred meters. The good news? The parafoil deployed correctly and slowed descent, and it should be easily recoverable from the water. This represents a $6million savings each time, which is another piece of the puzzle to reducing launch costs and making these missions increasingly affordable and attractive to carry out.
(more details at techcrunch.com)
(ars technica) “The primary mission on Wednesday is the launch of the PAZ satellite to low Earth orbit…The Falcon 9 rocket will also carry a second payload of note: two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b. Those are two satellites that SpaceX has previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing as part of an ambitious plan to eventually deliver global satellite Internet. “
Because now Elon Musk is ready to give us global internet. He must have had a few spare minutes before dinner last Thursday!