Good Test Fire Paves Way For First SpaceX 'Block 5' Reflight With 'Merah Putih' on Aug 7


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The first SpaceX Falcon 9 ‘Block 5’ to be re-flown conducted a successful static test fire at launch complex 40 on Cape Canaveral today, paving the way for launch with the ‘Merah Putih’ satellite on August 7. Photo Courtesy: Jacques Van OeneSpaceX completed a successful Static Fire Test today of an already flown Falcon 9 rocket, slated to be used early next week to launch Indonesia’s Telkom-4 “Merah Putih” communications satellite into geostationary orbit. The standard test took place at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Thursday, 2 August, and the upcoming mission will represent the first reuse of a ‘Block 5’ first stage.

Although still unconfirmed by SpaceX (after repeated emails inquiring), it is believed that the booster is designated “B1046”, used previously to launch Bangladesh’s first geostationary satellite, Bangabandhu-1, in May. It is expected too, that the first stage will execute an oceanic landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS)—nicknamed “Of Course I Still Love You”— in the Atlantic Ocean.


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Telkom-4, also known as “Merah Putih”—which means “red and white”, honoring the colors of the Indonesian national flag—will replace the failed Telkom-1 at 108 degrees East longitude. During a planned 15 years of operational service, Telkom-4’s 60 C-band transponders will enhance internet and telephone services throughout Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, together with India and Southeast Asia.

The Merah Putih satellite. Photo Credit: SSL

Tipping the scales at almost 12,780 pounds (5,800 kg), Telkom-4 is one of the heaviest payloads ever orbited by SpaceX. With its uprated Merlin 1D+ suite of first-stage engines, the Block 5 can attain a liftoff thrust of 1.7 million pounds (770,000 kg), some 7-8 percent greater than its now-retired predecessor, the Block 4, which completed its swansong flight on 29 June. This affords the Block 5 the ability to deliver up to 18,300 pounds (8,300 kg) to a geostationary altitude, some 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above Earth.

Contracts to built Telkom-4 were awarded to Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) in December 2015. “Satellite services are particularly important in regions such as Indonesia, where the population is spread over thousands of islands,” explained then-SS/L President John Celli. “For SS/L, this is the third satellite for Indonesia that we will add to our backlog and we are honored to play such an important role in expanding the telecommunications infrastructure for the nation and the region.”

It is gearing up to be a busy summer for SpaceX, as the company plans to launch no less than three SS/L-built payloads in less than a month, each utilizing the highly reliable and flight-proven SS/L-1300 “bus”, which has been in service for almost three decades. Already, Telstar 19V was lofted to geostationary orbit on 22 July and, after Telkom-4, it is expected that Telstar 18V will fly around 18 August. The SS/L-1300 can support payload power ranges of 5-12 kilowatts continuously throughout a 15-year operational lifetime and as many as 70 active transponders. Telkom-4’s criticality is acutely needed. When fully operational at geostationary altitude, it will occupy the 108 degrees East longitude position, currently inhabited by the aging (and failed) Telkom-1 satellite.

Telkom-4 carries 60 C-band transponders—better optimized than Ku-band for the conditions of high atmospheric moisture prevalent in Southeast Asia—of which 36 will be devoted to Indonesian usage and the rest for Indian telecommunications markets. The satellite will be able to provide internet connectivity reaching 100 Gbps.

Launch of Bangabandhu 1 atop the first SpaceX ‘Block 5’ Falcon 9 rocket from KSC pad 39A on May 11, 2018. The same booster is expected to be used again to launch Merah Putih / Telkom-4 as soon as Aug 7. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

“Because our country consists of thousands of islands, Indonesia needs satellite technology,” noted Alex J. Sinaga, president and chief operating officer of Bandung-headquartered Telkom Indonesia, the nation’s largest telecommunications and network provider. “Satellite complements our other technologies, such as submarine cable, as the backbone that connects the islands of Indonesia.” According to Indonesian media, Telkom-4 completed its final integration and checkout in June and was transported by truck—reportedly traveling through ten U.S. cities—from SS/L’s Palo Alto, Calif., facility to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Following its arrival at the launch site, it was loaded with 7,600 pounds (3,450 kg) of propellants needed for orbit-raising and station-keeping.

Liftoff is scheduled to occur at 1:18 a.m. EDT Tuesday, 7 August, at the opening of a two-hour “launch window”. This mission will represent the 60th flight by a “single-stick” member of the Falcon 9 fleet, stretching back to the booster’s inaugural flight—in its “v1.0” configuration—in June 2010. Since then, the vehicle has moved through several iterations, with a significant enhancement in capability, from the 1.1 million pounds (500,000 kg) of thrust produced by the nine Merlin 1C engines on the Falcon 9 v1.0 first stage, through the 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kg) from the Merlin 1D engines on the Falcon 9 v1.1, to the 1.7 million pounds (771,000 kg) from the enhanced Merlin 1D+ suite at the base of today’s Block 5.

All told, the evolution of the rocket over the last eight years and 60 flights has seen its payload capacity more than double, from an estimated 23,000 pounds (10,450 kg) to low-Earth orbit for the Falcon 9 v1.0 to 50,300 pounds (22,800 kg) for the Upgraded Falcon 9. And size matters, too, for today’s 230-foot-high (70-meter) booster is a full 50 feet (15 meters) taller than its pathfinding ancestor of June 2010. But although it took SpaceX eight years to reach the 50th flight of a Falcon 9 (a milestone achieved in March 2018), it has taken only five additional months to hit Flight No. 60.




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