Follow up (Part A) to Space X where we address the outcome of the first Falcon Heavy launch and Falcon 9 booster relanding outcome, SpaceMan and we don’t panic.
This is Pragmatic Follow-Up for episode 84, SpaceX. And I'm once again joined by Radek. Hello. Hi there. Hi. Just wanted to catch up. Last time when we spoke about SpaceX, they hadn't yet done the Falcon Heavy launch. Right. So you want to sort of walk us through how that went? Sure. So back in early February, there was the first test launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is essentially like three times the Falcon 9 rocket, three boosters strapped together and the second stage and the payload. And that was a really interesting launch just from marketing perspective, I guess, because it was the biggest, like it is the biggest operational rockets on the planet currently. and only a few rockets in history that were more powerful than that. It is a lot of engines, like no one successfully launched a rocket that would have 27 individual engines. The Russians back in the '60s tried to do something like that and it didn't go very well. Too many engines, too much weird resonance stuff going on between them. And on top of the Falcon Heavy was mounted a dummy payload, a mass simulator, as they call it in rocketry, except the mass simulator, which is, I guess it's weird because it's not simulating mass, it's real mass, but it's usually like a block of concrete or like steel, like something that just simulates the mass of a real payload, like a satellite, but without actual building one, because it's a test launch. it could have failed. It's supposed to build confidence in the rocket, in the product. But because it's SpaceX and it's Elon Musk, they decided, "Hey, let's make it something people will want to watch, people will be interested in, people who are not normally interested in rocketry or space." So they took Elon's old Tesla Roadster and put a mannequin inside dressed in SpaceX's actual spacesuit which they're going to use to send people to International Space Station next year and they launched it on the orbit around Mars. Well actually around the Sun but going between Earth and Mars. So essentially we send a Tesla we the humanity we send a Tesla with a mannequin towards Mars which is super funny. Oh no i know that's so amazing and i think they called the driver star man and yeah and just watching that video feed of it looking over his shoulder and you can see on the dashboard of the roadster they've got on the screen it says don't panic which is a nice Douglas Adams reference there for Hitchhiker's Guide. It's just so funny and quirky and cool that they would do something like this, because I had to put some kind of payload, so they may as well make it something funny. And the only thing about it, so the launch itself, I think, went flawlessly, the launch did. And I think the direction, sorry, I should say the trajectory, mistake of the of the Roadster was was slightly off and as a result it's intended or I think it was intended originally to orbit around Mars but now it's not quite going to. No it was never going to actually enter Mars's orbit because it would require the payload to have long-lasting power and engines to be able to slow down just enough to insert into the orbit. You're supposed to orbit the Sun so that the apoapsis, that is the farthest away point in the orbit, was just just before Mars. But apparently that didn't quite work. Not sure why. We don't know all the details but it went a little too well I guess and the payload was inserted into the orbit that extends towards the asteroid belt. So further than Mars. - Oh well, it'll be the most useful asteroid in the belt I guess at some point. - Well I really hope that somewhere in the future in a few decades maybe in 50 years or something we will have the technology to actually capture this Tesla, bring it back to Earth or to Mars and put it in a museum. It would be pretty amazing. - Yeah, that would be pretty cool I gotta say. And the The other thing about, apart from the ridiculous coolness of the whole thing, that part of it, the interesting thing is, like we were talking about last time, the Falcon Heavy consists of the three primary rockets, and those particular ones are obviously the self-landing. And this particular collection, so these three were going, they separated, and then each of them attempted to re-land. So the thing that was the most amazing about it was that two out of the three of them successfully re-landed. I think they were the two that landed on land. The third one was not quite so lucky. So the idea here is that the two side boosters, they separate, they burn fuel more quickly so that they can separate, so that you ditch what's essentially dead mass, so that you have less mass to actually accelerate. So that, again, you have boosters, they burn up as quickly as possible, separate, and then the center core flies and burns fuel for longer. And so that's why after separation, when it was attempting to land, it couldn't go back to land, there was no fuel for that. It would attempt to on a barge, essentially way out on the ocean, but because it was much faster, it was, you know, it had much more velocity, then it didn't quite manage to slow down enough. Well, actually it could slow down, but there was a problem with reigniting the engines because it was going too fast and they didn't calculate everything just perfectly right. The engines, or one of the engines, failed to ignite and instead of landing safely on the barge, it hit the water like a hundred meters from the barge at the velocity of, if I remember correctly, 300 miles per hour. So it's, you know, the shrapnel was so violent that it actually damaged the barge. Yeah. So, and absolutely right. And I guess the only part of it that I found frustrating is that it's like two out of three ain't bad. I mean, to be honest, but yeah, but the fact that they were able to pull that off, the launch itself with three essentially identical Falcon 9 boosters on it and then to re-land two out of three of them. That is truly amazing. No one's ever done anything like that before and it's just, yeah, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing. And SpaceX since then, I mean, just looking through their launch manifest, they've got, they've had so many missions, I mean, then and it's only been, that was February I think, so we're now in August. So I think they've had nearly a dozen launches since then. They are really doing well. Yes, they are well on the way to launching 30 or maybe 32 launches this year, which is going to be a record by a long shot for SpaceX and it is going to be the most frequently launched rocket, not just this year, but in a very, very long time to have these many launches of one type of rocket. And something like a third of those launches this year will have been reused launches. So it will be rockets that had already launched and landed and then were reused. And the only reason why it's not more than a third is because they were preparing for this technology transition to a new version of the rocket and they knew that because this new one is so much better at reusability that it's going to be way easier to actually just inspect it, refuel and launch again, that it wouldn't make sense for them to recover the previous ones so they would let them you know drown in the ocean like everybody used to do for for decades if not for that we'd probably have half or two thirds of all launches that were on rockets that I have that have flown more than once. Yeah I think you're referring to the block 5 Falcon 9s I think yes? Yes correct. Yeah so and I've learned so much right and and I always we did talk about the different block versions of the Falcon 9 last time and I think that there's no question that they've pretty well, it's hard to say when one crashed into the water that they've nailed it, but jeez, they have iterated to the point at which it's incredibly reliable now and the block 5s are basically, obviously they're going to continue to iterate the design but this will be the design I think that is that is their bread and butter moving forward and just looking at the schedule I believe that the next one they're planning for will be for the Falcon Heavy will use three Block 5s going up in I think it's October this year. They're not launching a Tesla Roadster this time though. It's something for the Air Yeah, there's going to be a lot of different payloads on one launch, but it's ordered by US Air Force, I believe. And it's probably going to be at the end of the year, probably not October. But yes, it should happen this year. And this one will be a new Falcon Heavy, so new set of rockets, but the next one, hopefully, will be reused. Like all three boosters will be reused. that's going to be pretty amazing. And as for landings, as I mentioned, there was a lot of launches this year that didn't attempt landing, but out of launches that did attempt landing, the only launch that failed, that tried and failed to launch, was the Falcon Heavy Center Core. And before that, the last failure was in June 2016. So they pretty much perfected this technology, like something that was deemed impossible and then they blew up a couple of times and now when they calculate that there's enough fuel to be able to do this and they decide that it's worth recovering then they nail it every time. The Falcon Heavy being an exception but an understandable one since that was a different trajectory much faster and if you believe what Elon Musk tweeted like the same day, the fix is trivial. They just didn't have enough of this igniter fuel. Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, they just go from strength to strength and I continue to be amazed and impressed with SpaceX and what they've managed to achieve. It is truly incredible and it's going to change forever. The access to space and it's a privilege to watch it actually, it's just fantastic. And yeah, way to go Elon and way to go SpaceX.