CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The burst of light generated by SpaceX rocket's nine main engines early Tuesday signaled the first time the newest version of Falcon 9 flew on its second mission, kicking off considerably more flights for the vehicle as the company accelerates its ambitions toward full rocket reusability, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
The booster tasked with launching the commercial communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40 should be familiar – it became the first Block 5 version of Falcon 9 to take flight during a high-profile mission from Kennedy Space Center in May. After liftoff, it was recovered in a successful landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The booster known by its serial number as 1046 launched Merah Putih, an Indonesian communications satellite, at 1:18 a.m.
[VIDEOS BELOW: SpaceX launches, lands rocket booster]
Company chief executive Elon Musk has said Block 5s should be able to withstand up to 10 flights with minimal refurbishment between missions and up to 100 with moderate work. That marks a significant upgrade from previous versions of Falcon 9, which were retired after two flights.
Helping SpaceX achieve that flight rate are several upgrades to the boosters ranging from improved engine performance to retractable landing legs for quicker post-launch processing to a more durable heat shield, to name a few. They're cheaper to fly than older rockets, too – where previous missions were about $60 million, Block 5s cost around $50 million, according to Musk.
The upgrades, combined with faster processing times between missions, should also pave the way for SpaceX to launch twice within 24 hours, a long-sought-after milestone Musk has said will occur sometime in 2019.
The 12,800-pound spacecraft for Tuesday's flight, meanwhile, is expected to provide communications services to the 17,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago over the course of its 15-year lifespan thousands of miles above Earth in geostationary orbit. "Merah Putih" refers to the red and white of the Indonesian flag, according to California-based SSL, which built the spacecraft there. It was previously referred to as Telkom-4.
Tuesday's liftoff, however, doesn't mean the Space Coast is done with launch activities for the month. United Launch Alliance is targeting 3:48 a.m. Saturday – the fifth early morning launch in a row – for NASA's highly anticipated Parker Solar Probe mission from Launch Complex 37 on a three-core Delta IV Heavy rocket. And if schedules hold, SpaceX is expected to launch a communications satellite known as Telstar 18 VANTAGE sometime later in the month.