SpaceX lifted Bangladesh's first satellite into orbit Friday using an upgraded rocket designed for dozens of repeat flights including back-to-back, same-day launches. It soared from NASA's Kennedy Space Center into a hazy afternoon sky, carrying a communication satellite named Bangabandhu-1 after the founding father of Bangladesh.
"In the continuous advancement of Bangladesh another milestone is added today", said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a video address aired on SpaceX's launch webcast. Though the Falcon 9 Block 5 was designed with human spaceflight in mind, NASA will require seven successful flights of the Block 5, with no significant changes to the rocket's configuration, before allowing humans on board.
For this new model, SpaceX enhanced engine performance, strengthened various parts of the rocket and improved the landing gear system.
So far, the first-stage boosters have been recycled once, for a total of two flights apiece.
Musk expects each Block 5 to be able to launch 10 or more times before needing major refurbishment. If all goes according to plan, Block 5 rockets will start sending test crews to the International Space Station for NASA later this year. "The rocket and payload are in good health - the team is striving for a backup transmitter tomorrow".
There will be additional "minor refinements" in Block 5, Musk said. The new version of the rocket is outfitted with upgrades created to make it more durable so it can be reused as many as 10 times, dramatically cutting the costs of space missions.
About a half hour after launch, live images showed the satellite drifting into the inky blackness of space, as cheers and screams erupted at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Previous versions of the Falcon 9 could be launched only twice before retirement.
Before the launch, Musk said he was "stressed" and that orbital rockets are hard enough, but building one that can fly 100 times is "crazy hard". The satellite will eventually travel to a path 22,000 miles above Earth, where it will provide telecommunications coverage for Bangladesh and surrounding areas. Bangabandhu Satellite-1's mission is expected to last at least 15 years.