After an unusually extended period of testing in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX’s next-generation Falcon 9 Block 5 booster (B1046) appears to be scheduled for an inaugural flight as early as April 24, a three-week recalibration from the original April 5 launch date.
New hardware, new bugs
A fairly significant leap from the current Block 3 and 4 iterations of Falcon 9, it should come as no surprise that the first Block 5 booster has taken a bit longer than anticipated to pass through its first integrated static fire testing and inaugural launch preparations. Put simply, new hardware takes time and safety and reliability take near-complete precedence over expediency.
Arguably, the better part of half of all of SpaceX’s planned 2018 launches will depend heavily on the Block 5 upgrade of Falcon 9 (and Heavy), especially if the company still intends to complete 20-25 launches between now and the end of the year. Per a relatively new strategy of intentional expending recoverable, flight-proven Falcon 9 boosters after their second launches, SpaceX is on track to effectively deplete their stock of non-Block 5 hardware well before the second half of 2018. As such, approaching Block 5’s introduction with extreme caution (as with most things in rocketry) is undoubtedly in SpaceX’s best interest. The gradual march to B1046’s first flight will thus continue forth to NET April 24 – subject to change, of course.
CONFIRMED by @Thales_Alenia_S, Bangabandhu-1 is manifested to launch on the first 'Block-5' Falcon 9 rocket, NET April 24.
From Thales, "This has resulted in some extra delay. However, Bangabandhu-1 will fly on the most advanced and reliable vehicle ever built by #SpaceX"
— AmericaSpace (@AmericaSpace) March 28, 2018
Thales-Alenia’s confirmation lends credence to the argument that the relatively lengthy period B1046 spent in Texas was simply SpaceX giving a complex and new technological system its due diligence – better to test cautiously and fix bugs than to rush complex procedures and damage the rocket, an eventuality likely to push any tentative launch date back to a much greater extent.
With Bangabandhu-1 now officially scheduled NET April 24, the SpaceX focal point can return to a flurry of upcoming launches – Iridium-5 (NET Mar 30), CRS-14 (NET April 2), and TESS (NET April 16). Teslarati photographers Pauline Acalin (West Coast) and Tom Cross (East Coast) will be on the ground for all upcoming launches to capture some of the final swan songs of SpaceX’s rapidly diminishing stock of flight-proven Falcon 9s.
Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete—targeting April 2 launch from Pad 40 in Florida for Dragon’s fourteenth mission to the @Space_Station.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 28, 2018
Tom Cross – Twitter
Pauline Acalin – Twitter
Eric Ralph – Twitter