January 20, 2019

SpaceX launches upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, lands first-stage booster

12 May 2018, 01:28 | Ross Houston

Falcon 9 Block 5 is created to handle 10 or more flights with only "very limited refurbishment", according to SpaceX, this being part of the company's "rapid reusability and extremely high reliability" goals.

SpaceX will try again Friday to launch a new version of its Falcon 9 rocket that could eventually carry astronauts into space. Bangabandhu Satellite-1 will provide broadband connectivity to rural areas throughout the country and is expected to last at least 15 years, according to a SpaceX statement.

The payload of the launch is the Bangabandhu Satellite-1, Bangladesh's first geostationary communications satellite.

As important as the payload is, proving out the Block 5 design is arguably just as important: The rocket has been upgraded with a more powerful version of SpaceX's Merlin engine, more resilient thermal protection and more streamlined landing legs. In total, Falcon 9 rockets have made more than 50 trips to space over the past eight years. With less than a minute remaining before a scheduled launch, the countdown came to an abrupt stop because of a technical problem that caused an automatic abort.

SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said launching the same rocket twice within 24 hours will be "crazy hard", but he hopes to pull off the feat as early as next year.

SpaceX has landed and reflown boosters many times before. With periodic refurbishment, a single first-stage booster could be capable of executing on the order of 100 flights before its retirement, he said. Insane hard. We still need to demonstrate it. NASA requires seven successful flights before the new rocket receives final certification for a manned mission.

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Musk said after the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February that SpaceX will soon focus all of its engineering talent on building its Mars rocket, called BFR.

There will be additional "minor refinements" in Block 5, Musk said.

The rocket is created to require far less maintenance and refurbishment between flights, and is certified to carry humans to space later this year when SpaceX launches its Dragon crew capsule to the International Space Station.

The United States has not flown humans to space since 2011.

"Would you rather fly in an aircraft that has never had a test flight before, or do you want to fly on an aircraft that has flown many times successfully?" he told reporters.

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