Hawthorne-based SpaceX launched a newly upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday, carrying a Bangladesh communications satellite toward orbit, then landed the rocket’s first stage on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean for its 25th successful rocket recovery.
The Falcon 9 rocket used in Friday’s launch was the first flight of an upgraded version of the rocket dubbed Block 5. The new version of the rocket is outfitted with upgrades designed to make it more durable so it can be reused as many as 10 times, dramatically cutting the costs of space missions.
The company’s previous Falcon 9 rockets, while successfully recovered two dozen times, have never flown more than twice.
Friday’s launch occurred at 1:14 p.m. California time. It was originally planned on Thursday, but it was aborted about 60 seconds before launch. SpaceX officials said the rocket’s flight computer received an abort signal from its ground system, which turned out to be an “artifact” of an earlier test sequence that had not been properly reset.
The glitch forced the one-day delay in the launch, but Friday’s mission went off without a hitch.
The Falcon 9 Block 5 launched the Bangladesh Communications Satellite Co.’s first orbital satellite, dubbed Bangabandhu-1, into orbit. The satellite is expected to expand communication capabilities across Bangladesh and in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 includes improvements such as upgraded heat shields to protect the rocket’s base during re-entry. The Block 5 is also outfitted with improved navigation fins — which help guide the rocket’s first stage back to Earth after delivering a satellite into orbit — made from fire-resistant titanium.
Reusing the rockets is a major cost-saving step for space travel. Although SpaceX has never fully divulged manufacturing costs, experts have estimated that the first stage of the rocket alone can cost up to $40 million. That’s more than half of the estimated overall $62 million price of the Falcon 9, according to various trade publications.
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