SpaceX is rather well-known for the iconic Falcon 9 rocket that it frequently sends to outer space during International Space Station resupply missions and satellite launches, among other things, but the company surpassed a significant milestone after launching another one of its rockets from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday.
Image Credit: SpaceX/YouTube
Unlike most Falcon 9 rockets, this one was particularly special. It was an upgraded model dubbed ‘Block 5’ that SpaceX claims is both more powerful and more reusable than any Falcon 9 flown before it.
In theory, Block 5 should sustain many more launchings and landings than the previous-generation Falcon 9 rocket, and it shouldn’t require as much refurbishing effort as the latter between launches. In fact, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says it should be able to fly at least ten times before requiring any substantial maintenance.
But Block 5 is a new and untested Falcon 9 platform, and SpaceX will need to test it several times before it earns that title. How do they do that? Well, launch it, of course!
“Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm that it does not need to be taken apart,” Musk said.
Fortunately, Friday’s scheduled launch served as a perfect testing opportunity for the commercial space company’s latest rocket platform. With it, SpaceX successfully sent a Bangabandhu Satellite-1 into space and landed the spent booster shortly after. A full stream of the launch is available below:
SpaceX will closely-examine the condition of the spent rocket to see how it fared after launch and whether the initial claims hold any water, so it probably won’t fly again for several months. That aside, this novel platform holds the potential to revolutionize the spaceflight industry.
Given that Block 5 doesn’t require as much maintenance, SpaceX could theoretically launch these rockets more often than any in the past. And if the claims are valid, then SpaceX may be able to recover its Block 5 rocket and then prepare it for a second flight within just 24 hours of being used for a different mission.
But we also said that the Block 5 sports more power, and that it does. Musk says that Block 5 delivers up to 8% more thrust, which gives the upgraded rocket authority over its predecessor.
When crewed missions eventually return to American soil, it will be SpaceX’s Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket that delivers astronauts to the International Space Station. That said, this is an essential development for both the commercial space industry and for scientific research.
It should be interesting to learn of the results after Block 5’s maiden flight and to see whether the rocket passes NASA’s safety tests before astronauts can begin riding on it.