SpaceX founder Elon Musk took questions before the company launches the new version of its Falcon 9 rocket known as Block 5.
Musk dove into a plethora of new information and technical data, detailing the goals and upgrades for the workhorse orbital-class rocket, which has become the company’s backbone.
Here are a few highlights from Musk’s call with reporters on Thursday — covering such topics as his plan to launch twice in the same day, the reliability of Block 5 and his pursuit of making space travel like air travel — with the full transcript below.
“We’re on track to be double our launch rate last year, which was a record launch rate for us. In fact, I believe Falcon 9 was the most launched rocket worldwide of 2017. And, if things go well, which is a caveat, then SpaceX will launch more rockets than any other country in 2018.”
“This will be the last major version of Falcon 9 before [the Big Falcon Rocket]. And we expect this to be a mainstay of SpaceX business. We think of probably winding up something on the order of 300 flights, maybe more, of Falcon 9 Block 5 before retirement.”
“The key to Block 5 is that it’s designed to do 10 or more flights with no refurbishment between each flight — or at least not scheduled refurbishment between each flight. The only thing that needs to change is you reload propellant and fly again.”
“We believe that the Block 5 boosters are capable of on the order of at least 100 flights before being retired. Maybe more.”
“Our goal, just to give you a sense of how reusable we think the design can be, we intend to demonstrate two orbital launches of the same Block 5 vehicle within 24 hours, no later than next year.”
“Toward the end of next year we’ll see the first Block 5 seeing [its] 10th flight. And like I said, next year is when we intend to demonstrate re-flight of the same primary rocket booster within — basically, same day re-flight of the same rocket. I think that’s really a key milestone.”
“The first, most important thing was addressing all of NASA’s human-rating requirements. So we need to exceed all of NASA’s human-rating requirements for Block 5 — and they are quite extensive — as well as meet all of the Air Force requirements for extreme reliability. So this is, this really is, I really don’t want to jinx fate here, but this rocket is really designed to be, the intent, is to be the most reliable rocket ever built. That is the design intent.”
“You’ve got the boost stage is probably close to 60 percent of the cost, the upper stage is about 20 percent of the cost, fairing is about 10 percent and then about 10 percent which is associated with the launch itself. So if we’re able to reuse all elements of the rocket, first of all, it’d be the first-ever fully reused orbital vehicle of any kind. And then we’d be able to reduce the cost for launch by an order of magnitude.”
“We may be able to get down to a marginal cost for a Falcon 9 launch down, fully considered, down under $5 million or $6 million.”
“For those who know rockets, this is a ridiculously hard thing. And it’s taken us, man, from 2002, 16 years of extreme effort, and many, many iterations, and thousands of small but important development changes to get to where we think this is even possible.”
“It’s really designed like a commercial airliner, relative to, say, a general aviation aircraft. Getting all those details right is massively difficult.”
“If aircraft were not reusable and you needed a new one for every flight, then each ticket would cost millions of dollars, at least. One way. And you’d need two for a two-way trip. And almost no one would be able to afford to fly. And that’s the situation with expendable rockets today. And what happens once you achieve reusability, then tickets can go from a million dollars, to a few thousand dollars, or a few hundred dollars for short trips. And then fundamentally spaceflight will be open to almost anyone, just as air flight is.”
“I think the general sentiment will change from being, from feeling like a flown rocket is scary to feeling like an un-flown rocket is scary. Just like, would you rather fly in an aircraft that’s never had a test flight before? Or would you rather fly in an aircraft that’s flown many times successfully? I think that’s, certainly for — I’m a pilot, and I’ve flown a lot of aircraft, and I’ve read about aircraft design — I definitely would far prefer to fly in an aircraft that’s flown many times successfully than one that has never flown. But really we completely have the opposite sentiment in rocket land. But I think that sentiment over time will change to the point that people will actually prefer to fly on a flight-proven rocket than one that has never flown.”
“And then, as mentioned, Block 5 also has improved payload to orbit. Improved redundancy. Improved reliability. It’s really better in every way than Block 4. I’m really proud of the SpaceX team for this design. We spent a tremendous amount of time on it. I’ve gone over every detail that I could fit in my brain, and I’m just really impressed with the quality of work that the SpaceX team has [brought] here. Come what may in this launch, I know that we have a really great team. I couldn’t be more proud of them. And I know that they’ve done everything they can to make this go well.”