This Friday June 28th, the last Falcon 9, last of the block 4 SpaceX engines will take flight. To this day, the reusable Falcon has completed a total of 14 flights. So what is this whole “block 4” thing and why is it so significant today?
Just another rocket?
To understand its significance, we must first understand how the block 4 engines, and the falcon 9 rockets differentiate themselves from the rest. First and foremost, usually rockets are used once. The rocket that got us to the moon was used once, and every government funded rocket since has acted the same. Fly once, get damaged, burn up on re-entry. That has been the cycle that rockets have been following for so many years. Yet SpaceX has decided to rebel against this, so that the same way we use our cars more than once, we should be able to use our rockets.
Falcon 9 is the first reusable rocket to ever leave Earth. Which makes it a pioneer of its kind, it made history first in 2012, delivering the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. SpaceX became the first company to ever visit that station, since then the Falcon has made 14 return trips.
So what makes it so different, internally?
Firstly, the spacecraft uses only a two-stage configuration, which minimizes the amount of times it’ll experience separation. And sporting nine first stage engines, it can safely complete any mission its been set on even after engine shutdown.
It also uses a pneumatic “interstage” which is the area between stage 1 and stage 2, unlike most ships which use a pyrotechnic system. The first stage has nine Merlin engines, after ignition, there’s a system in place that checks all engines are capable of a full-thrust performance. Then, with a thrust almost equivalent to 6 Boeing 747 aircraft, it launches to space, but unlike airplanes, a rocket’s thrust increases as it goes further. The Falcon 9 can achieve a staggering 1.8 million pounds of thrust, and all of this with a burn time of only 162 seconds. Another key thing is that even if 2 of the engines fail, the Falcon 9 can still take flight, and is the only vehicle in its class with this capability.
The second stage is a lot milder than the first, a single engine is enough to complete it, and its got the longer burn time of almost 400 seconds. The engine ignites after a few seconds have passed from separation. The engine can be turned on and off multiple times, ensuring maximum precision.
So, what’s next?
Following this launch and return, the Falcon 9 will retire, as will all block 4 modules. SpaceX will begin work on block 5. Block 5 has already experienced some tests on other Falcon 9 models, and it is an ongoing effort to make space flight more like commercial airplane travel. This means that the next goal of SpaceX is to be able to launch a rocket every day. To further this they’ve adopted new materials and efficiency-improving technologies in block 5. We’re looking forward to the block 4’s final sendoff as well as what comes in the future!
Student by day, tech writer by night! I’m passionate about all things tech, and working on my 2nd degree.