Early Tuesday morning, SpaceX is slated to launch a new communications satellite from the Florida coast, using one of its used Falcon 9 rockets for the job. However, this is the first time that SpaceX will reuse one of its new powerful Block 5 boosters — the final upgrade of the Falcon 9 that is supposed to be able to go to space and back up to 100 times. Previous versions of the vehicle were only able to fly to space twice, meaning this particular vehicle could be the first Falcon 9 to go into space for a third time.
For this mission, SpaceX is using the very first Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket it’s flown, a vehicle that sent up a large communications satellite for Bangladesh in May from Florida. The vehicle landed on one of SpaceX’s drone ships after the flight, and the company has since done inspection and refurbishment on the vehicle over the last three months to get it ready for flight again.
Eventually, SpaceX hopes to do as little refurbishment on these Block 5 vehicles as possible, if any at all. Limiting the amount of inspection and tweaking needed between re-flights could significantly up the cost savings that SpaceX gets from reusing its rockets. Less money is needed if fewer people and materials are needed to turn around the rockets each time. Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to fly each Block 5 vehicle a total of 10 times before any refurbishment is needed.
However, since this was the first Block 5 flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that inspection was necessary to ensure that these vehicles really do not need refurbishment immediately following a rocket landing. “Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm that it does not need to be taken apart,” Musk said during a press call in May. On Twitter, Musk also indicated that the inspection went well, but that getting down to zero refurbishment may be tough.
Looks good, but so many details need to be right. Journey back from hypersonic becomes extremely difficult as velocity increases. Altitude is easy, velocity is hard.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 23, 2018
Tonight’s launch will loft a communications satellite called Merah Putih into a high orbit above Earth. The satellite, which will eventually provide telecommunications services to parts of Indonesia and South Asia, is set to be deployed about 32 minutes after takeoff. Following launch, the used Falcon 9 booster will attempt to perform another landing on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic.
SpaceX has a two-hour launch window to get this vehicle off the ground starting at 1:18AM ET on Tuesday, August 7th. So far, weather looks good, with an 80 percent chance that conditions will be favorable for a launch. SpaceX’s coverage is slated begin about 15 minutes before takeoff. Rocket enthusiasts and night owls should check back then to watch this mission live.