Yesterday, SpaceX launched an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 rocket that featured lessons learned from over two years of space flight.
According to a Florida Today report, the Falcon 9 Block 5 launched from Kennedy Space Center at 4:14 p.m. from pad 39A. The rocket accomplished its mission on its maiden flight — to deliver the first geostationary satellite for Bangladesh.
The Verge reported that the launch and landing marked the 25th successful landing for SpaceX. Ultimately, the Block 5 rockets will carry humans into space for NASA in the future, and SpaceX developed the rocket to be its most reusable to date. The first generation Block 5 rockets should launch 10 times without the need for maintenance between flights, which is a massive increase in usability for the company.
According to CEO Elon Musk, after landing, the rocket will turn horizontally, and crews will attach both a new upper stage and a nose cone on top, and then the rocket will turn vertically and be ready to launch again once it is refilled with propellant. After 10 flights, the company plans to perform routine maintenance, and the rockets should be reusable for up to 100 space flights.
After yesterday’s launch and successful landing, SpaceX plans to fully take the rocket apart to inspect it and ensure that it will be able to return to space flight again without the need for any maintenance. That means this rocket probably won’t launch again for a couple of months, but it’s necessary to make sure that it can hold up to space travel like the company believes it will.
The Falcon 9 may make crewed trips to the International Space Station as soon as late this year or early next year. The goal for this new rocket design is to launch twice within about 24 hours, and Musk plans to attempt that turnaround sometime next year. So far, the smallest amount of time between launches for SpaceX is about 48 hours. However, those two launches occurred with two different rockets in two different locations. With the Falcon 9 design, the same rocket will launch twice in 24 hours.
Until this Block 5 upgrade, it’s taken a few months for SpaceX to relaunch its Falcon rockets. This type of turnaround should be a significant improvement in rocket reusability and significantly improve the feasibility of space travel.