Successful launch and touchdown for next-generation Falcon 9 rocket
The latest version of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster lifted off today from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At 4:14 pm EDT (20:14 GMT), the first of the Falcon 9 Block 5 rockets lifted off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) carrying the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). The Block 5 is the final upgrade of the Falcon 9, making it capable of 10 or more flights with only inspections and limited refurbishment in-between.
The liftoff of the Falcon 9 was under partly cloudy skies and went without incident after leaving the pad. At the one-minute 14-second mark, the point of maximum stress was passed as the rocket broke through the sound barrier. Main engine shutdown was at two minutes and 31 seconds with first stage separation two seconds later. The second stage burned for two minutes and four seconds before coasting until the 27-minute 38-second mark, when a brief second burn placed the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 into its transfer orbit
Meanwhile, the first stage carried out a series of maneuvers before touching down on the unmanned dronebarge "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the 25th successful Falcon 9 powered touchdown.
Today's launch came after an abort on Thursday, which occurred at the T -1 minute mark due to a ground systems auto abort caused by a ground relay that had failed to reset after a system test. It marks the first flight of the Block 5 batch of Falcon 9 rockets, which incorporate a number of upgrades to improve performance, increase the service life of the booster and reduce turnaround time between recovery and relaunch.
According to SpaceX, the new Block 5 rocket will be able to fly 10 times with only inspection and minimal maintenance between launches, and 100 times in total before needing to be replaced. In addition, the Block 5 can be reflown within 24 hours of recovery.
Its engines have up to eight percent more thrust than its predecessors, the flight controls allow for a better angle of attack to conserve fuel, there is a heat shield at the base of the rocket to protect it during reentry, and the guidance vanes are now made of titanium for better heat resistance. In addition, there have been improvements to the landing legs to make them retractable for easier recovery.
These improvements are not only aimed at making the Falcon 9 more reliable and reusable, but is also in anticipation of the first flights of the Crew Falcon, which will carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). For these missions, the Falcon 9 must be certified as man-rated. That is, it must not only be as failure-proof as possible, it must also keep all vibrations and accelerations within a narrow envelope to protect the lives of the passengers and crew.
Another first for the launch was its Bangabandhu Satellite-1 payload, which is Bangladesh's first geosynchronous communications satellite. Managed by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), it uses 26 Ku-band and 14 C-band transponders and was manufactured by Thales Alenia Space on the Spacebus 4000B2 platform. When it reaches its final orbital position at 119.1° East, it will provide telecommunications coverage for Bangladesh, the Bay of Bengal, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
The video below is a replay of the launch webcast.