SpaceX to launch upgraded Block 5 Falcon 9 Thursday

Improved Falcon 9 designed to launch 10 times without major refurbishment

Image courtesy Florida Today.
Image courtesy Florida Today.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX teams are preparing the newest version of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch Thursday with a commercial communications satellite from Kennedy Space Center.

The newest generation of Falcon 9, known as Block 5, was slated to launch from KSC’s pad 39A Monday afternoon, but the company has been reviewing data from a test firing of the rocket’s nine Merlin main engines since Friday, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

Later on Monday, SpaceX said in a tweet that it is targeting the Falcon 9 Block 5 launch of the Bangabandhu Satellite on Thursday. The almost two-hour launch window opens at 4:12 p.m.

“Falcon 9 Block 5 static test fire complete ahead of next week’s launch of Bangladesh’s first geostationary communications satellite,” SpaceX said via Twitter after the 7:25 p.m. brief test fire, its last update on the mission. “Vehicle is healthy. Data review will take a few days – will confirm a target launch date once that review is complete.”

Officials with the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron expect 80 percent “go” conditions if the launch occurs Thursday. If the launch is delayed to Friday, conditions drop to 70 percent.

The nearly 8,000-pound satellite will deliver communications services to Asia ranging from Turkmenistan to the Philippines with the Bangladesh Communications Satellite Company, located roughly in the middle, as its operator. Bangladesh will become the 58th country in history to operate a geostationary satellite after it reaches orbit.

The mission will debut Block 5 of Falcon 9, which features upgraded reusability features and overall enhancements learned from two years of launching, landing and re-launching rockets. The booster’s heat shield, for example, which is located at the base, has been reworked to allow additional reuses without as much refurbishment as older Block 4 models.

Block 4s were flown no more than two times; Block 5s, however, could fly up to 10 times or more, CEO Elon Musk said last year. That could help the company reduce turnaround time between launches, save on costs and launch more often with fewer rockets.

Bangabandhu-1 will mark the first launch from pad 39A since Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s three-core vehicle, vaulted off the pad on Feb. 6 with the now-iconic Tesla Roadster and “Starman.”