During a teleconference detailing the return of Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft from its second resupply flight to the International Space Station, the company’s chief executive officer, Elon Musk, detailed how SpaceX is working to modify its highly-successful Falcon 9—in ways that could prove revolutionary. These are, however, just a few of many new designs the roughly ten-year-old company is working on that could herald a new age of human space exploration.
Musk detailed how SpaceX has been working toward a number of upgrades to both its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and its Dragon spacecraft.
For the Falcon 9, these include the addition of the new Merlin 1D engines—which will significantly increase the amount of weight the rocket would be able to send to orbit—recovering the first stage at first out at sea, and then having the first stage return to the landing site under its own power.
“These new upgrades will allow us to pack the Dragon spacecraft essentially full; it could raise the usable payload by several tons … this is also the version of the Falcon 9 where we will attempt to recover the first stage, although, as I’ve said before, I think it will take us several flights before we’re successful in that. I’m not sure it will be this flight where we are successful, but that is one of our aspirations as well as one of the key design goals of the new version of Falcon 9, ” Musk said.
Musk described the thought process that had guided the company to date.
“We started out with a water landing because that was probably the easiest thing to do, and we didn’t really know what we were doing in the beginning. Things are getting better, but we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Now, we want to try and push the envelope and take technology to where it hasn’t been before, ” Musk added.
He then went on to detail how the first stage return would be conducted, as well as to reiterate that this was a totally new maneuver using newly-developed technology—one which has not been attempted before and could take some time before the California-based firm gets to work as advertised. Besides expressing caution, Musk said that SpaceX does not currently have a specific mission targeted for when his company will try to fly the first stage back to the landing site, only stating that they plan to attempt it sometime next year.
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