Elon Musk – will Big Falcon Rocket fly to space?
Moderator World Garage
Elon Musk completely confused everyone. In January 2019, he introduced Starhopper, although he promised Big Falcon Rocket. Or no, first he flew the Falcon Heavy and the BFR divided into two parts — and Superheavy Starship. And why is Starhopper so similar to rockets from children's drawings and old fiction of the fifties? Everything in order.
Launched on February 6, 2018, the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle became a dead-end branch of the rocket evolution of SpaceX. At least not yet. Yes, it belongs to the super-heavy class, Yes, it can be used to bring into earth orbit 68 tons of payload, but this is not enough to implement the plans of the Mask.
The founder of SpaceX wants more from space. He needs a launch vehicle capable of flying to Mars not with a compact Orion spacecraft, albeit with additional compartments, but with the ability to bring a significant expedition and then return back. Therefore, the production of the largest in the history of mankind Big Falcon Rocket has started. Even the American giant Saturn-5, which was used to fly to the moon, turned out to be much smaller.
In addition, the Big Falcon Rocket will use a unique architecture for modern cosmonautics. Usually, there are several stages in the launch vehicle and the payload is a spacecraft or apparatus. During operation, the stages work alternately or together and after the exhaustion of the fuel and oxidizer are disconnected from the rocket and fall down. As a result, only the payload goes into space — a spacecraft or a satellite, sometimes together with a booster unit. The upper stage is a small engine for moving a spacecraft in space and launching it into the required orbit.
A whole new way
In Big Falcon Rocket Elon Musk all will not be quite so. The launch vehicle itself is divided into two approximately equal parts. The lower one is called Superheavy, and the upper one with payload is called Spaceship. The flight itself will be as follows: the rocket takes off as a whole, using Superheavy stage engines. After reaching the required height, the lower part is separated and returned to the Cosmodrome, landing on its own engines.
The upper part includes its own engines and continues to output the payload into orbit. The spacecraft will go into space without separating from the second stage as a whole. It is assumed that it will have enough fuel for it to brake in the dense layers of the atmosphere after the flight task and then land using its own engines. Thus, both halves will be completely reusable. For the flight of the Big Falcon Rocket will only need to refuel and reconnect the two halves.
So far it sounds too fantastic, however, if SpaceX succeeds conceived, it can be a major change in the market of space launches. The dimensions of the sealed volume BFR in the manned version of the ship can range from 850 to 1000 cubic meters. For comparison, astronauts in the manned spacecraft "Apollo" was available only 140 cubic meters of sealed space (a solid part of which accounted for the lunar module).
It is assumed that the Big Falcon Rocket will receive three versions of the upper stage of Starship: manned for the crew, cargo for launching spacecraft into orbit, including such large ones as the legendary Hubble telescope, as well as a tanker. In this version, the Big Falcon Rocket will serve to refuel an already launched spacecraft in orbit, ready to fly to Mars. It is assumed that at least five such refueling stations will be required to fully equip the expedition, and all fuel ships can be put into orbit by one Superheavy stage.
Learn to jump
It was for testing Starship, the top of the Big Falcon Rocket, that Starhopper was created. This is a test model of smaller length, but the same diameter as the future rocket will be. It is equipped with three Raptor engines and will learn to take off and land, first making very small "jumps" meter or two in height, and then carrying out flights to a height of several kilometers.
The Raptor engine is expected to provide 1,700 kN (1,900 kN in vacuum) instead of the originally planned 3,050 kN (3,500 kN in vacuum) thrust. However, SpaceX specialists are currently working on its modernization and bringing the thrust to the originally stated values.
You need to understand that before us is just a layout. The test version of Falcon, where SpaceX specialists learned to make a soft landing, also did not look particularly cool. That is why the Starhopper is sheathed with very thin metal, almost tin, which is clearly seen in the places of the sheets to the inner skin. The main task is to test the operation of engines in different modes.
As for the appearance of Starhopper, it looks like a rocket in the representation of artists and science fiction writers of the last century is not accidental. First, Elon Musk has always been a fan of space design of those times and did not hide it. Secondly, it is pure functionality, which then could only dream of, and to implement it only in our time. A rocket capable of both taking off and landing using the same engines simply can't look any different.
If the flights go well, Elon Musk promised to show the final version of the Big Falcon Rocket currently under construction in the port of Los Angeles in the summer. At the same time, there are some already unrealistic dates of the first launch, up to the first half of 2020. Probably won't work out that fast. The same Falcon Heavy shifted "to the right" for several years from the original promises. Now, when it comes to super-heavy rocket with absolutely innovative architecture, such dates can not be believed at all.
On the beginning of work on the heavy-duty rocket Elon Musk first announced in 2010, since then the project has changed several times, assigned new names, assumed a new appearance. Unlike most modern carriers, when the rocket is made according to the created and approved drawing, Elon Musk seems to try on the projectile, making changes and returning to the idea again and again. The only problem is that such a method of trial and error is almost impossible to predict, including the timing. We don't know how many changes will be made to the design based on the results of Starhopper jumps and how much it will change the final terms.
Most likely, we will not see the first test run before 2021, and everything will depend on how successful it will be. If everything goes as it should, in the coming years we can see a completely returned, completely new launch vehicle. What if it turns out to be exactly the breakthrough in space exploration that we're all waiting for?