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We see that for the first stage, Falcon 9 boosters, SpaceX barely cleans the soot off. (Generally the soot comes from flying through the engine exhaust of boostback, reentry, and landing burns.)

The Dragons come in looking mighty toasted as well on the upper shell.

On the booster, ready for launch they look much cleaner.

Does SpaceX clean the upper outer shell or replace it between launches of a Dragon (Crew or Cargo, does it matter?)?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it actually soot, per se? $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Feb 10 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ikrase The boosters, it is soot, since it from burning kersosene and flying through that exhaust. On Dragon it is probably more scorching. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Feb 11 at 0:57

1 Answer 1

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SpaceX Dragon uses an ablative heat shield.

That means the heat shield needs to be replaced or at least refurbished after every reentry. This applies both to the primary reentry heat shield at the bottom of the capsule (made of PICA-3 (Phenolic-Impregnated Carbon Ablator, version 3) or PICA-X for Dragon 1) and the thermal protection system on the backshell (made of SPAM (SpaceX Proprietary Ablative Material)).

SpaceX may have partially reused parts of the heat shield, but the details are fuzzy.

Regardless of whether or not SpaceX reuses parts of the heath shield, it is always the outer layer that gets burned off, so that needs to be replaced regardless. In other words: the outer layer, i.e., the visible part, is always new.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's the one time you actually want SPAM! $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Feb 12 at 9:00

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