Ten days before Christmas 2017, a Falcon 9 rocket launched an orbit to a Dragon spacecraft. The first stage then made a series of engine burns and landed safely along the Florida coast. The core has been stored since then.
In the absence of a costly and expensive renovation, this Falcon 9 "full thrust" rocket will never fly into space again. SpaceX prefers to fly back its new version of "Block 5" of Falcon 9, which incorporated reuse lessons learned from previous flights such as those that this rockets core had made. The work of this rocket, therefore, was apparently done.
But William Harris, the president and CEO of Space Center Houston, thought he knew of a way rockets like this one could still serve the aerospace company, albeit in a different way. Although such a Falcon 9 rocket would no longer fire its engines, it could still inflame the enthusiasm of young people.
"Our goal with Space Center Houston is really to learn. [and] to excite the public about space exploration, "Harris said in an interview. This was an opportunity to do just that. "
Then, last year, Harris visited SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., And asked if the company would consider donating a used Falcon 9 rocket to display at the Houston facility, which is the official visitor center of the Johnson Space Center. The Houston Space Center is the number 1 tourist destination in the Houston area, Harris told the company.
The rocket would allow the museum to educate visitors about what is happening in space now, in addition to the past. And exhibiting a Falcon 9 rocket would allow SpaceX to share its vision for the future of space flight, with reusable, lower-cost reinforcements.
It turns out that SpaceX was interested. The company would be happy to donate the rocket that flew the 11th and 13th supply missions to the International Space Station, officials told Harris. This particular nucleus also has some historical weight, since it is the first Falcon 9 rocket that NASA agreed to fly a second time.
The Houston Space Center hopes to take possession of the reinforcement sometime this summer and immediately place it on horizontal display near the entrance to the museum. Exactly when the installation gets the reinforcement, it depends on SpaceX. "We depend a little on them for when they are ready to transport it," Harris said. "They have many things on their plate, obviously."
This type of interaction with museums is new for SpaceX, since historically it has focused on flying rockets into space, not putting them in museums. Harris said the company is being generous in getting employees out of some projects to help move the core of Falcon 9 and help the Houston museum with the screen design.
The rocket will be shown as it is, complete with marked markings due to atmospheric reentry and engine firing. Initially, the rocket will rise horizontally, almost four meters above the ground, allowing visitors to walk around and under the vehicle. (In a nice touch, the catwalk will have the shape of the SpaceX logo). Finally, perhaps in about a year, Harris said the Falcon 9 will be displayed vertically. But this will require additional engineering to secure the rocket safely, especially given Houston's propensity to hurricanes and other types of severe weather.
Currently, a used Falcon 9 rocket is displayed in a single location around the world: in front of the SpaceX headquarters. Later this year, Harris said he hopes other museums in the United States can also purchase used Falcon 9 reinforcements, so by showing one horizontally, the Houston Space Center has a good chance of being the first site. after the SpaceX factory.
It is not clear how long the rocket will last in the elements, given the humid climate of the city of Bayou. Eventually, Harris said the museum will do its usual conservation work to ensure that the Falcon 9 core remains in perfect condition. He anticipates that it will quickly become one of the biggest attractions of Space Center Houston.
"SpaceX does such a brilliant job of marketing their releases with their webcasts," said Harris. "We are confident that people will want to come and see one of these rockets in a close and personal way."
We also have quite confidence in that.
Listing image by the Houston Space Center