SpaceX to Fly First Reused 'Block 5' on 60th Falcon 9 Launch Tonight with Merah Putih Satellite

A sooty used Falcon 9 ‘Block 5’ stands ready to launch its second mission tonight with the Merah Putih satellite for Indonesia from cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX is ready to launch another mission late tonight from launch complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, aiming to deploy Indonesia’s Telkom-4 “Merah Putih” communications satellite into geostationary orbit. Additionally, the launch will mark the 60th flight of the Falcon 9 rocket, and the first time SpaceX will reuse a ‘Block 5’, as the company works towards a rapid turnaround and fully-reusable launch system.

Liftoff is targeting 1:18 a.m. EDT, at the opening of a two-hour launch window, and will head due East from the Cape. The U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing is forecasting an optimistic weather outlook as well, predicting 80% odds of favorable conditions for tonight’s launch attempt, with a small chance of storms the only threat.


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The rocket launched Bangladesh’s first geostationary satellite, Bangabandhu-1, last May off pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, and marks a significant milestone for SpaceX. The ‘Block 5’ is their last significant update to the Falcon 9, and represents the culmination of years of development, incorporating 100 or so changes over previous Falcons to allow SpaceX to turnaround and reuse the rockets much faster, and fly more missions with a single booster, all while keeping costs down.

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

We inquired with SpaceX about what refurbishments this rocket needed between launching its first mission and preparing to launch Merah Putih, but a SpaceX spokesperson declined to comment on any technical details.

Ultimately, SpaceX wants to see Block 5s conduct 10 or more flights with no refurbishment between each flight — or at least not scheduled refurbishment between each flight. They want to do nothing more than moving the booster from its landing pad to the launch site, integrate the new payload, move to the launch pad, refuel, and be able to launch the same rocket within 24 hours.

And they expect to do so no later than 2019.

But that’s not good enough for Elon Musk, he even wants to see a same-day reflight next year too, not just a 24-hour turnaround, and he expects the rocket launching tonight to make its 10th launch by the end of 2019.

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 at SSL’s factory prior to being delivered to the launch base. The satellite is scheduled for launch on Aug. 7. Photo Credit: SSL

Tipping the scales at almost 12,780 pounds (5,800 kg), Telkom-4 will be one of the heaviest payloads ever orbited by SpaceX.

Contracts to build Merah Putih 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.

Telkom’s Merah Putih satellite inside the Falcon 9’s fairing. Photo Credit: Telkom Indonesia

“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. 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.

Tonight’s 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.

The rocket tonight will attempt to land offshore shortly after launch, aiming for the bullseye on SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You”.


 – Article by Mike Killian & Ben Evans.



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9 comments to SpaceX to Fly First Reused ‘Block 5’ on 60th Falcon 9 Launch Tonight with Merah Putih Satellite

  • Chris

    Let’s take stock on where we have come from…

    [Name Removed to protect the guilty]
    April 16, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    “Having landed on ships a couple times riding in the back of a helicopter- this has always looked like a bad idea to me. I am just as much prey to the cult of personality as anyone else though and was not going to predict Musk would not be able to pull it off.

    Now it is becoming apparent because this monstrosity cannot hover it may mean this is not going to work. An airplane has to make an approach, a helicopter has to hover, and a top heavy rocket plunking down perfectly may not be practical. Like many of the ideas the billionaire hobbyists are peddling. From suborbital tourist planes, to 4000 cheap and nasty little satellites, to hyperloopy vacuum tubes carrying people, it is all just good fun to them. Unfortunately, in most cases, taxpayers are subsidizing their toys.”

    What will the next 3 years bring that goes way over the head of these retrograde thinkers?

  • Vladislaw

    It would be interesting if America Space combed through the comments section on what people have stated on this forum about SpaceX over the years. The reason I stopped coming here was because of the anti SpaceX all day every day in the comments section. No articles would generate more than a handful of comments. UNLESS it was a SpaceX article then the rivers would run red with 40 – 50 anti spaceX comments.

    It would truely be an interesting article in itself.

    • Most people come here for the content we work hard to produce day in & day out, & they appreciate the real on-site work & thorough in-depth reporting & articles we produce. Maybe you should ignore the trolls, & focus on content instead. Sorry to have lost you, but we get 10 new for every 1 reader who leaves due to comments which go against their own opinions. People within the industry share our work regularly too, Garrett Reisman for example tweeted this story, the content is what matters. We moderate comments as best we can & determine when something crosses the line and requires removal. Unfortunately we can’t ban commenters, trolls are trolls they will troll by any means necessary.

      I’ll also note, 95% of the comments you refer to were by one single person using multiple profiles to troll, we’ve since stayed aware of his antics and by now he has for the most part stopped, as he knows we will just delete any comments he makes.

      • Mike Killian / Managing Editor
  • Tracy The Troll

    I love this site for the in depth information that no one else provides…Additionally I have learned much for the insights of the commenters who also have real world industry experience.

    The question that seems to keep coming up for me is, “What does Elon Musk know that nobody else will talk about?” He continues to push towards his Mars Colony plans irregardless of what anybody else says and does. Is the weather stranger than normal? Could we be impacted by a 10th planet that enters close to earth every 5000 years? Is it just time for another Super Volcano to Blow killing 90% of the life on the planet?

    I get it that we are talking big money here in government contracted space systems and that everybody is fighting over these funds but Musk is really going to Mars and apparently soon while the Media continues to tell us about how the government is NOT spending enough money to get us there before the 2050s at this rate. In the meantime SpaceX just held its first forum on the mechanics of sustainable living on Mars with Industry Leaders in a private conference with NDA requirements.

    Oddly SpaceX is doing exactly what the Apollo Program was leading to in many ways, the complete Commercialization of Space, Moon, Mars..etc etc. I guess we will see…

    Unless Musk is arrested for Tesla stock manipulation by calling for a buy price at $420 per share..

    • Vladislaw

      He does seem serious. SpaceX held that meeting in CO. today with scientists etc..

      Update On That SpaceX Mars Meeting In Colorado
      “There is a meeting about Mars exploration underway at the University of Colorado in Boulder sponsored by SpaceX. Contrary to some initial descriptions the meeting is not “secret”. But its not exactly “open” either. Rather, it is invitation-only. The purpose of the meeting according to sources is for SpaceX to ping Mars exploration experts outside their company about the technology needed to implement the Mars exploration plans that have been described by Elon Musk. ”

      • tracy the troll


        Its strange or not really…The legacy companies from the Apollo/Shuttle era want $100B to $150B for a ten year to 20 year commitment that will total $1T to $1.5T to go to Mars or it can’t be done. Musk says I am building the BFR and will be there in 5 years with a crew…And I will use my own money…NASA is like…Ok maybe we like SpaceX plan while at the same time we will pretend to be interested in the SLS…just in case. On the Horizon is Blue Origin as well but at a much slower speed…Still they have orbital rockets set to launch in 5 to 7 years as well…Which is also privately funded…So where there is the ability a market will be created as somebody will go. The private space hotels are set for 2020 and already have 3 reported customers for a 10 to 12 day stay at $55M.

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