SpaceX set to debut 'Block 5' rocket upgrade for satellite launch

Pat Wise
May 11, 2018

Today at 4:12 p.m., SpaceX will launch a new rocket from its iconic Falcon 9 fleet called the Block 5, sending into orbit a communications satellite for the Bangladeshi government. The next launch opportunity is planned on May 11, starting at around 4:14 pm (2014 GMT) and ending at 6:21 pm.

After the March 2017 launch of a previous Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that, "The most important part of Block 5 will be operating the engines at their full thrust capability, which is about 7 or 8 percent nearly 10 percent more than what they now run at". After separation, the first stage of the two-stage rocket will attempt to land on a robotic "drone ship" off the Florida coast shortly.

Many of these tweaks are also focused on turnaround time for these rockets.

Until now, SpaceX has only ever used any of its boosters twice. It's also created to be safer and more reliable for astronauts who will be launched to the space station by SpaceX within the next year.

Bangabandhu-1 will have a primary service area encompassing Bangladesh and the surrounding region and will offer Ku-band coverage over Bangladesh and its territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal, as well as India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Falcon 9's main aim is to propel the first high-orbit communications satellite for Bangladesh, called Bangabandhu Satellite-1.

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Musk said he'd like to see a single Block 5 rocket fly three or four times by the end of 2018. Forecasters predicted a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather.

The satellite, Bangabandhu-I, is designed and developed by Thales Alenia Space.

A second stage COPV apparently ruptured during a pre-launch test September 1, 2016, triggering a catastrophic explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 and its satellite payload and heavily damaged the launch complex.

The rocket's grid fins, which help steer the first-stage back to Earth for landing, are now all made of titanium - a change from the company's use of aluminum, which Musk said "got cooked pretty hard" in the past.

The takeoff will be neat - the landing will be even neater than neat. The legs had to be removed in previous versions of the rocket before a recovered booster could be hauled away for post-flight processing.

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