SpaceX is riding high. Last week, it launched a communications satellite into space using a recycled first stage rocket. Then it brought the recycled Falcon 9 back to earth successfully and recovered the nose cone used for the launch. It was the first time any piece of a rocket other than the booster has been recovered after a launch. Now it is time to think about the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch planned for later this year.
SpaceX is on a mission to reuse as much hardware as possible in order to drive down the cost of space travel. The company is now considering ways to recover the second stage of its Falcon 9 rocket, a feat that almost defies imagination and would further reduce the cost of a rocket launch. The second stage uses a modified version of the 9 Merlin rocket engines that power the first stage but reconfigured to operate in areas where oxygen is in short supply.
Next up is the first flight of the Falcon Heavy. Designed for lifting large payloads (like the capsule that will transport astronauts to Mars one day), it consists of three Falcon 9 first stage sections strapped together. Musk said last week the Falcon Heavy may fly in “late summer.” Or not. Musk has been promising the first Falcon Heavy flight for some time now.
He says developing the Falcon Heavy has been more difficult than anticipated. “At first it sounded easy, but actually no, this is crazy hard.” The company needed to redesign the center core and add new hardware for the upcoming flight. Musk says the odds of success are not high. In a new announcement, Musk says SpaceX will use to “flight proven” (i.e. recycled) Falcon 9 cores as the side boosters around the center core.
And what will sit atop the enormous rocket when it finally goes up? Nothing valuable, apparently.
Silliest thing we can imagine! Secret payload of 1st Dragon flight was a giant wheel of cheese. Inspired by a friend & Monty Python.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 31, 2017
Believe it or not, the world’s biggest nerd has a sense of humor. The volume controls on the sound systems installed in Tesla automobiles go to 11 in homage to a famous line from the movie Spinal Tap. The high performance versions of Tesla cars all have goofy names like Insane Mode and Ludicrous Mode. The upcoming second generation Tesla Roadster, due out in a few years, will be the fastest Tesla ever built and will feature Maximum Plaid mode. All three are references to Mel Brooks’ movie Space Balls, a spoof of the original Star Wars.
Only Musk could be playful enough to conduct an experiment that will use up more than $100 million of hardware to put a proverbial wheel of cheese into orbit. His dedication to pushing the envelope is altering how mankind travels both on the ground and in the air.
Source: Ars Technica Photo credit: SpaceX