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Thanks to their now recently official reusability capability, and after looking at the SpaceX flight manifest that showcases at least five new v1.1 FT before the Demo, it made me ponder:

By the time of the planned Falcon Heavy Demo launch (May 2016), could SpaceX have enough 1st stages to possibly make a refurbished Falcon Heavy (ie: the hardware aspect would be covered)?

If it is possible, it would make sense for SpaceX would go down that road — that launch is paid for from SpaceX's own pocket (explaining why Falcon Heavy was pushed back when in 2014 they saw 1st stage recover was doable on paper). Also it could solve their client’s initial worries about the quality of their refurbished rocket.

Here it could put SpaceX in a position of strength saying "No rebates on refurbishments, we go by cost of launch only like we’ve always done. Expect the price to drop in the future though".

I’m asking to know if the added risk is worth it. Also to know if there are any science/practical reasons why it wouldn’t be doable. Examples that comes to mind are:

  • Refurbishment time frame, knowing SpaceX's track record, is not realistic.
  • the v1.1 FT would require excessive rebuild to accommodate 'Heavy' stuff (ex: cross-feed capability).
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  • $\begingroup$ If memory serves, no current clients are actually using cross-feed yet anyway. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Dec 23 '15 at 0:31
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Let's take a look at the upcoming flight manifest.

  • January- SES- GTO- Will attempt landing on drone ship
  • January- Jason 3- LEO, likely will attempt landing on barge
  • February- CRS 8- Likely attempt landing on land
  • Early 2016- Eutelsat 117- GTO, Will likely attempt landing on drone ship
  • Early 2016- JCSAT14- GTO, Will likely attempt landing on drone ship
  • 1st quarter 2016- Amos 6- GTO, Will likely attempt landing on drone ship
  • March 21- CRS 9, likely landing attempt on land
  • April- Falcon 9 heavy attempt.

First of all, this is a very optimistic schedule. The fastest SpaceX has recycled a launch was about 3 weeks, if they can keep that pace up, then the 8 listed missions would be complete in 24 weeks, or about 6 months. Okay, but how about with a more realistic schedule? Most of the landing attempts will likely be on the barge, for those missions requiring the higher performance. There will likely be one more land attempt of the early missions, for the CRS mission. Otherwise, barges seems to be where the landing attempts will occur, due to the more stressing mission attempts. Hopefully we'll get a barge landing soon, but so far that hasn't been demonstrated successfully.

Next step is to see how different a F9 heavy core is from the lower stage of a Falcon 9. Let's take a look at SpaceX's image of the Falcon 9 Heavy. The biggest difference that I notice is that there is a framework on the top part of the booster. Also, there is a nosecone that is unique to the heavy configuration. This appears to be bolted together. It could be retrofitted in the factory, but it wouldn't be using the exact same booster, just 90% the same. Looking at the image, it also appears there is several connecting points along the structure, all of which likely need to be purpose built.

enter image description here

Bottom line, it could potentially be done, but I'm not confident that will be the approach taken. More likely the F9 and F9 heavy cores will be different, although they are almost identical. It would be cool, but I don't think that will be the case.

Let's see if these modifications appear to be present with the recent launch. I don't see any obvious modifications that would support a Falcon 9 core.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ The theory is that F9 1.1 Full Thrust has margin on the first stage to recover it (downrange on an ASDS Barge) even on heavy GEO launches. They intend to try and recover every single booster going forward. Jason-3 will likely land on the Marmac 303 (the ASDS formerly known as JRTI). $\endgroup$ – geoffc Dec 23 '15 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ The F9 1.2 allows recovery even going to GTO. $\endgroup$ – tl8 Dec 23 '15 at 5:07
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on the mission I'm sure, but likely could. Hmmm... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 23 '15 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ I've done some research and added the details as listed, thanks for the input! $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 23 '15 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ For a reused rocket, they have to reduce the price. No one would want it otherwise, especially at first. And that's the whole goal anyways. In reality, I suspect the first reusable rocket will be launched without any profit, if not a small loss. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 23 '15 at 14:57
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The side boosters and the center core will be different. Gwynne Shotwell discussed this in an interview, which you can read a report of in this SpaceNews article.

“Falcon Heavy is two different cores — the inner core and the two side sticks,” Shotwell said. “The new Falcon 9 will basically be a Falcon Heavy side booster. So we’re building [only two different] cores to make sure we don’t have a bunch of configurations around the factory so we can streamline operations and hit a launch cadence of one or two a month from every launch site we have.” - See more at: http://spacenews.com/spacex-aims-to-debut-new-version-of-falcon-9-this-summer/#sthash.mhopYFhr.dpuf

SpaceX will be building two core types, the center core, and side boosters. The side boosters will be based on the Falcon 9 single stick and the core will be a separate design, but they will make only two core types to keep production simplified.

In fact, revisiting this years later, the two side boosters for the Falcon Heavy demo flight are previously flown boosters, modified to be side boosters.

Here is an image of a side booster wrapped (The cone shaped top is the giveaway). Wrapped Side Core in transit

  • Core B1023, previously flown on the Thaicomm 8 GTO mission. (Thus very hard landing on OCISLY)
  • Core B1025, previously flown on CRS-9, which landed at LZ-1, a very easy landing.
  • Core B1033 a new build, will be the center core of the mission.

The SpaceX Reddit page, has a couple of good Wiki's they are maintaining with all this information.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any recent source for that information? It would mark my question as a clear 'no' like that. The only things I could find was back in 2014, when Musk said the F9 and Heavy would share the same production line. But my question entails that since, the F9 has been upgraded to v1.2 (aka v1.1 FT). By now perhaps they are actually virtually the same vehicle. $\endgroup$ – y2k Dec 23 '15 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ It was a comment by Gwynne Shotwell in a video but I forget which video. And Trent Waddington's awesome site www.shitelonsays.com only transcribes Elon's excrement, not Gwynnes. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Dec 23 '15 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Is it this comment youtu.be/XtNgWK4mm0M?t=8m9s ? Thx for pointing me in the direction of Space X CFO. She is quite an impressive person $\endgroup$ – y2k Dec 24 '15 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @w2k Found a link to the article with Gwynne, edited it in. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Dec 31 '15 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ Thx for the nice edit! So to paraphrase your answer, two Falcon 9 1st stages could be refurbish into the two falcon heavy boosters. As for the Falcon Heavy Core, it will have to be new. Space X would surly give this goal to their refurbishing team. While keeping a contingency plan of building 2 new Heavy booster (aka Falcon9 1st stage) in parallel. If all goes well, this will make the 'falcon heavy demo' an even nicer launch, knowing it will also be the 1st flight where their reusable labor will give its fruit on a financial level. Neat $\endgroup$ – y2k Jan 2 '16 at 14:30
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The flight has now happened, yay!

As far as the two side boosters are concerned, according to this table B1023.2 and B1025.2 have been already used once previously. According to this answer to the question Has SpaceX re-used a first stage twice yet? they are not likely to be used a third time any time soon. However, so far I am not aware of any reason why they couldn't be used a third time, and in the long term F9 reuse multiple/many times is planned.

The above was originally written as an answer to this question.

As this answer points out, (and I am sure in the following three years there have been several others) the Falcon Heavy center core is not at all a standard F9. It is specially built to withstand extra loading. It might be capable of launching by itself, but it couldn't be called a F9, and not sure why one would even do that since it's far more valuable as a FH center core.

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