- SpaceX successfully launched its new Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket for the first time on Friday.
- Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, said it’s the most powerful, reliable, and reusable Falcon 9 yet – and the company’s final major revision of the rocket.
- The mission also landed a giant rocket booster, then deployed Bangabandhu-1, a satellite designed to bring internet, TV, and phone service to Bangladesh.
- You can rewatch SpaceX’s live broadcast of the Falcon 9 mission below.
On Friday, Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, successfully launched the most advanced Falcon 9 rocket to date, called a Falcon 9 Block 5, then landed its giant booster on a ship at sea.
The launch came after an aborted attempt on Thursday, when flight computers automatically aborted the mission due to a relay glitch. The company resolved the problem and successfully launched on Friday.
Musk says the Block 5 is the final major version of the company’s workhorse launcher, and that the system is designed to be the “most reliable rocket ever built.”
“I hope fate does not punish me for these words, but that is unequivocally the intent, and I think our most conservative customers would agree that is an accurate statement,” Musk told reporters during a teleconference call on Thursday. “Please, fate, do not punish me for this – the intentions are good.”
The rocket’s 16-story booster landed on a drone ship at sea about 8 minutes after launch.
The upper stage, which continued into deep space, deployed the first geostationary communications satellite for Bangladesh, called Bangabandhu-1, around 4:47 p.m. ET.
Why the Bangabandhu-1 mission was so important for SpaceX
- Thales Alenia Space
Thales Alenia Space, the company that designed and built Bangabandhu-1, said in a statement that the spacecraft is a “historical first satellite” for Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu-1 is expected to bring state-of-the-art phone, radio, TV, and internet service to the nation of more than 160 million people, as well as surrounding countries like Nepal, Myanmar, and Bhutan.
But the 23-story rocket carrying the satellite was the real star of the mission: the Falcon 9 Block 5 is the most powerful, most reusable, and most likely last version of SpaceX’s workhorse orbital launcher.
SpaceX had previously launched 55 missions on a Falcon 9 since the rocket’s debut in June 2010. But engineers have steadily improved the system over time, making it taller, stronger, less heavy, and more powerful.
The most important changes have been made to help the booster – which makes up about 60-70% of marginal launch costs, according to Musk – launch, land, and be relaunched. Those upgrades have involved the addition of avionics, fins, and landing legs.
So far, SpaceX has only reused a Falcon 9 booster twice. With Falcon 9 Block 5, Musk hopes to expand that record to 10 launches for each new booster with only quick inspections needed between launches. With minor servicing and refurbishments, he said, the boosters could perhaps get reused 100 times or more.
Combined with other tricks to reuse parts of the rocket – primarily the fairing (the nosecone of the rocket) and the upper stage – he noted this could lower marginal launch costs to under $5-6 million.
“We expect this to be the mainstay for SpaceX business,” Musk said of the new rocket.
The two-stage BFR system is expected to be taller than the Statue of Liberty, deliver a 16-story spaceship into orbit, be fully reusable, and ferry 100 people and 150 tons of cargo to Mars. It will ultimately replace all other SpaceX rockets, as it will be cheaper to launch and reuse than any Falcon 9 – at least in theory.
SpaceX recently got a permit to begin constructing the first BFR spaceships in the Port of Los Angeles, about a dozen miles south of the company’s headquarters. Musk hopes to begin test-launching the first BFR spaceships at SpaceX’s Texas facilities early next year.
Rewatch the first Falcon 9 Block 5 launch on YouTube
Although the rocket lifted off at 4:14 p.m. ET, you can rewatch the entire SpaceX live broadcast below.
The booster lands on a droneship about 8 minutes after the launch.
About 25 minutes after that, the upper stage of the rocket deploys the Bangabandhu-1 satellite into orbit some 22,230 miles above Earth.
This story has been updated with new information.