SpaceX’s highly reusable Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket targets early May debut

SpaceX has confirmed that its next-generation Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will debut in early May, according to statements from Bangabandhu project director Md Mesbahuzzaman.

This slight shift from late April to early May follows shortly after an email interview SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell gave to AviationWeek, where she confirmed that Bangabandhu-1 would in fact be launched by the first Block 5 Falcon 9 booster and sketched out a rough outline of the highly-reusable rocket’s future.

“US company SpaceX, who will put Bangabandhu-1 into orbit, has sent us a letter confirming the new [May 4] schedule.”

While Shotwell largely rehashed previously-known information about the next-generation  Falcon 9, she reiterated features expected to debut with Block 5, including a bolted (rather than welded) octaweb structure, retractable landing legs, titanium grid fins, and an upgraded thermal protection system, as well as “upgraded…operational capability of components across the board.”

Most importantly, Shotwell confirmed that the thermal protection system upgrades have already been flight-tested on Falcon 9 Block 4, seven boosters of which were produced. Aside from B1044, which was sadly expended with the launch of Hispasat 30W-6 due to bad weather in the Atlantic, six of those seven have already flown, five of those six were recovered after launch, and two of those five recovered boosters have since completed a second mission.

The final Block 4 booster is expected to complete a static fire test on Wednesday at Cape Canaveral’s LC-40 pad, ahead of the launch of NASA’s TESS, an exoplanet surveyor. Excitingly, TESS’ launch is expected to feature what will likely be the first drone ship landing attempt in nearly six months. The last drone ship landing occurred in October 2017. Success is presumed due to Falcon 9 Block 4’s flawless history of booster recovery, and strengthened the relatively lightweight payload the rocket will be tasked with launching. After months of down-time, Of Course I Still Love You and its famous Octagrabber (Roomba) companion may well get their first taste of rocket recovery in far too long.

OCISLY and Octagrabber spied on March 20 by Reddit user 360_forever. (Reddit /u/360_forever)

If all goes smoothly leading up to its launch, the first Falcon 9 Block 5 will also find itself aboard OCISLY just three weeks later, after a (fingers crossed) successful launch of the 3700 kg Bangabandhu-1 geostationary communications satellite.

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SpaceX’s highly reusable Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket targets early May debut
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