SpaceX Successfully Launched The Final Version of Their Falcon 9 Rocket
SpaceX is finally giving that capability to the Falcon 9, having finally completed the much more powerful "Block 5" upgrade for the rocket. It still hasn't carried humans yet, but the Falcon 9 Block 5, which is twice as powerful as the original model, went on its maiden voyage this past Friday after some initial delays.
The eventual plans for the Block 5 are ambitious: according to SpaceX chief Elon Musk, the rocket will soon be able to launch with almost no maintenance in between flights, simply landing the rocket after a launch and swapping out an upper stage and nosecone before sending it back up again. It will only need longer inspections after every 10 launches, and they expect to get 100 launches total out of a single rocket.
Of course, because they needed to know whether everything worked right after the very first launch, they still pulled the Block 5 rocket back into the lab for a full inspection. But soon, perhaps when they're sending astronauts to the International Space Station for the very first time, that shouldn't be a problem anymore. Musk described it this way:
The cargo on this very first Block 5 mission was the Bangabandhu Satellite-1, a communications satellite from Bangladesh. Once that successfully reached orbit, the rocket's first stage was landed on a SpaceX drone ship named "Of Course I Still Love You", after a spaceship from sci-fi author Iain M. Banks' novel The Player of Games.
Falcon 9 Block 5 first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship. pic.twitter.com/YHqdxIrc8b— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 11, 2018
Successful deployment of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 to geostationary transfer orbit confirmed. pic.twitter.com/aX7kRQtBpZ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 11, 2018
SpaceX has said in the past that this is the final version of the Falcon 9 rocket, at least for the foreseeable future. Since the company is still working with their even more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket, and the eventual BFR ("Big Falcon Rocket") that's designed to travel to Mars, it makes sense that they'll be satisfied with keeping the Falcon 9 at "Block 5".
But this is a pretty impressive model all the same, so there don't seem to be any issues with that.