SpaceX Sets May 10 For ‘Block 5’ Launch Debut with Satellite for Bangladesh

The first Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket rolls onto pad 39A for Static Test Fire ahead of launching Bangabandhu 1. Photo: SpaceX

UPDATE May 10 @ 6:15pm Eastern: Launch attempt scrubbed for the day, next launch attempt May 11 @ 4:14pm Eastern.

UPDATE May 10 @ 1:45pm Eastern: New liftoff time targeting 4:42pm Eastern.

ORIGINAL STORY – SpaceX’s long awaited first “Block 5” variant of their workhorse Falcon 9 rocket is ready to make its launch debut this week at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, after conducting a successful Static Test Fire atop historic pad 39A on May 4. The booster is scheduled to launch the Bangabandhu-1 communications satellite for Bangladesh at 4:12 p.m. Eastern on May 10, and although successful launch of the payload to orbit is the priority, the rocket’s transition from development and testing to fully operational marks a significant step towards returning astronauts to space from U.S. soil before the turn of the decade.

That’s because NASA will soon certify the Block 5 for launching human beings on. NASA awarded SpaceX a multi-billion dollar contract to fly astronauts to and from the ISS in 2014, and has strict requirements SpaceX must meet before certifying Falcon 9 to launch people. Block 5 will meet them all, allowing it to become rated for human spaceflight and ending further development of the Falcon 9 in general.

ABOVE: Watch SpaceX test fire their first Block 5 rocket atop KSC pad 39A. credit: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace

The U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predicts an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions expected for launch May 10, with thick cloud layers expected to be the primary concern. The launch window opens at 4:12 p.m. and closes at 6:22 p.m. Eastern.




It’s SpaceX’s last significant update to the Falcon 9, and represents the culmination of years of development, incorporating many changes to allow SpaceX to refurbish and reuse the rockets much faster, and fly more missions with a single booster, all while keeping costs down. But SpaceX has been rather quiet as to what upgrades the Block 5 DOES incorporate, so specific details are hard to come by.

What we do know, is the rocket’s Merlin engines have been redesigned to provide more power and allow for up to a dozen flights per booster before needing refurbishment, aiming for 48-hour turnaround between missions and 100 flights each before retiring. Not only will they improve performance, but reliability and manufacturability as well.

The Merlin engines which power SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets uphill (and down). Photo: SpaceX

It’s understood too, that one significant change is the elimination of a specific center engine configuration, reducing the number of engine configurations to 2; relight and non-relight. This means the change, combined with the new Merlin Throttle Valve (or MTV), allows any engine to be modified to be a relight or non-relight engine, at least up until integration with the rocket.

There are probably 100 or so changes on that vehicle,” said SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, early last year. Various components of the rocket have also been redesigned to endure more stress and harsher conditions, which will translate to less refurbishment, more reusability and less time between flights.

Block 5 is the last big spin on Falcon 9, and it’s largely driven by the upgrade that we needed to make for the commercial crew program, as well as national security space launch requirements,” she added.

Visibly similar to its predecessors, standing 230 feet (70 meters) tall, the new configuration of the rocket is characterized by an approximately 7-8-percent thrust increase across all of its Merlin 1D+ engines, strengthened and retractable landing legs, and improved reusability performance and enhanced flight control systems.

The Falcon lands on SpaceX’s offshore Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). Photo: SpaceX

Final Falcon 9 has a lot of minor refinements that collectively are important, but uprated thrust and improved legs are the most significant,” said Elon Musk in a previous Reddit Ask Me Anything“.

With Block 5 representing the end of Falcon 9 development, engineers at SpaceX can turn their focus to BFR development, their Mars rocket, plans for which were unveiled by Elon Musk last Sept. Matter of fact, SpaceX has already begun manufacturing at the Port of Los Angeles in California.

SpaceX successfully launched more than a third of all their missions to date last year alone, a personal-best-beating 18, more than twice as many as it has ever previously achieved in a single calendar year. That said, 2018 is off to a strong start as well, having launched 8 missions already this year, including the maiden voyage of the long-awaited Falcon Heavy on Feb 6 and launch of NASA’s TESS spacecraft to hunt for Earth-like worlds orbiting other nearby stars.

As for Bangabandhu-1, it’s all systems go in Florida, aiming for a geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above the Earth.

SpaceX will attempt to land the booster on their offshore autonomous drone ship too.


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  1. Wow
    48 hr turnaround between flights!!!??? Did I read that right?

    Is it 7 flights for crew certification?

    With this launcher and Dragon Crew and the HF9 with a BA330 and fuel …I am thinking it could take us to the moon, no?

  2. Yea, remember when folks around here said you could never do a fast turnaround on a RP-1 booster because a Russian website claimed coking required taking the engine apart….

    • Site management has done their part. It’s probably a good idea if we did ours and left JRs FUD behind as well. I really like a high quality comment section.

        • Tracy if you go to our Launch Tracker you’d see we provided the full audio of Elon’s discussion, so you can hear all the Block 5 details for yourself…

          • Mike Killian
          • Mike Killian,
            Thanks for pointing that out… I missed it earlier….Now for the questions I should have asked..

            Does anyone think that a 24 hour turnaround is even remotely possible? Isn’t the real savings in launch cost the labor costs required for operations? Will Musk really be able to reduce the Labor Crew cost on such a sophisticated piece of equipment? Recently he admitted his Tesla Model 3 was facing a production bottleneck because of to much robotic automation…Could this be a similar issue?

            • I think a 24 hour turnaround may be possible for demonstrating a point. I think it unlikely that it will prove operationally desirable. Excessive go-fever is not desirable. What I do think possible, and possibly desirable, is flights more closely packed than 24 hours. If there are 30-50 F5s produced, there could be as many as two dozen at a given launch facility. They could fly one or two a day for weeks before getting back to the first one in the rotation.

              Even if the cores are gas-n-go, there is still the matter of stacking the second stage and payload. There are a lot of motions taking place if the dress rehearsal burn must still be done without the payload aboard. If I am wrong, and it’s entirely possible with my track record, a couple of cores per launch site could service thousands of primary payloads per year. Not including cubesats and other secondaries.

              • Yes, Mueller said as much in his Skype interview last year. They can turn the stage around in 24 hours if they hustle, but the intent is to simply require that little work between flows. The 24-hour turn would be demonstration, turning the knife in all the naysayers suggesting that reuse is not economical.

              • “desirable, is flights more closely packed than 24 hours”

                Yes, good point. The limitation is reserving the range; the USAF, FAA, KSC and the Coast Guard only have so many resources to go around. A launch is a major disruption to the air & sea lanes around KSC (and to a somewhat lesser extent around Vandenberg), so the ability to launch two F9s in a short time slot on the same day, using the two SpaceX pads would be a major advantage for everyone involved. Turning around one pad in an hour or so…well maybe.

                “…could fly one or two a day for weeks”
                Not even remotely possible out of the Eastern or Western Ranges, for the reasons given above.

                Musk has made it clear that the Texas launch site will be exclusively for BFR. Now heavy BFR traffic out of Boca Chica IS what SpaceX is planning.

                • I see your point that surge launching would be valuable for range considerations. Range limitations might have to be addressed in the next few years if they become the choke point for space launch. The other limitation to the Falcon Overcast would be production of upper stage engines unless a recovery option is developed. Still and all, it is possible that SpaceX annual launch cadence becomes a three digit number in the foreseeable future.

                  • Wow,
                    All great points…How does SpaceX increase launch frequency when doing so shuts down sea and air traffic in the Range?

                    Dramatically reduce the range size?
                    Eliminate the requirement all together and just notify range ships/planes of launch?
                    Group launches one time during the day?

                    I read somewhere that the F9 has an auto destruct ability within the computer system in case the rocket goes off course. Does this lesson the need for Air Force Personnel?

        • @Tracy The Troll

          Tracy, IIRC you love the mighty Pyrios booster. Well the Pyrios concept may still live!
          Provided the SLS survives cancellation (by some miracle), NASA says SLS will run out of left-over Shuttle SRB hardware after only NINE flights. They need to start looking seriously at new Block 2 boosters sooner rather than later. Go Pyrios!

          The SRBs are such filthy, pollution spewing, ozone damaging, hideously expensive monstrosities, that NASA should plan for future European lead ozone depletion treaty limits NOW. The RP-1/LOX Pyrios booster looks pretty darn good by comparison to the SRBs.

          Of course the best idea is to put the SLS out of its misery NOW and turn to modern methane fueled vehicles from SpaceX, Blue Origin (and fingers crossed…ULA).

    • “…Russian website claimed coking”

      Probably the same reliable Russian site reporting on that Russian atomic rocket engine that will send a crew to Mars in two weeks starting next year.

      Meanwhile back in the real world: the coolest thing to come out of the Russian space sector in a long time, is the new ILS Brochure for the Proton-Medium. Page 3 has a neat b&w picture of the very first proton, the 2-stage UR-500 in 1965: “The vehicle has been in service since 1965 with over 410 launches to date for both the Russian Federal government and global commercial satellite operators

      link to the brochure below:

      Oh while you’re there, download the 400 page Proton Mission Planner’s Guide
      This a wonderful document chock full of interesting, well presented information on launch vehicles, astrodynamics, rocket design and performance…tons of cool space stuff.

      Russian “fake news” dreams of atomic rockets to Mars are sad and pathetic, but the robust yet elegant design and longevity (half century+) of their Soyuz and Proton rockets is testament to the Soviet design bureaus and pioneering engineers.

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