Instagram | Elon Musk
The new “Block 5” variation of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, rolling out to launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Being able to launch, land and launch again with minimal refurbishment between flights has been a central focus for SpaceX. The company has become quite successful at landing the largest part of the rocket — known as the first stage or booster. But it has yet to complete more than two flights with the same Falcon 9 booster. Block 5 is set to change that.
“Block 5 is capable of at least 100 flights before being retired,” Musk told a reporter on a conference call before the launch.
Musk expects each Block 5 to be able to launch 10 or more times before needing major refurbishment. He also said that SpaceX will have “30 to 50” of the Block 5 rockets in its fleet, but that “totally depends on what number of customers insist on launching a new rocket.”
The new rocket type comes with a host of upgrades, Musk said, making it “significantly easier to produce.” Block 5 has more powerful engines, more resilient hardware to survive the harsh conditions of re-entering the atmosphere and landing, less weight (notably through its unpainted components, such as the black interstage) and a more easily produced structure.
Block 5 arrives just as SpaceX is on pace to shatter its record 18 successful launches completed last year. With three more missions completed at this point than the same time in 2017 — including the debut of Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in the world — SpaceX is aiming for about 30 launches this year, according to SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell.
The debut mission will launch Bangabandhu Satellite-1, a telecommunications satellite for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. The new satellite will bring communications and broadband coverage to Bangladesh, as well as to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia.
After pushing the satellite and Falcon 9’s upper stage out of the Earth’s lower atmosphere, the booster will return to land on the SpaceX autonomous ship in the Atlantic Ocean about 8 minutes after liftoff.