Block 5 Falcon 9 rolled to launch pad for static fire test
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The first Block 5 variant of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been rolled up the ramp at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in preparation for a static fire test as part of the launch campaign for the Bangabandhu-1 mission.
SpaceX is targeting an eight-hour window (according to NASASpaceFlight) that opens at noon EDT (16:00 GMT) May 4, 2018, to perform the static fire, which is expected to last about 3.5 seconds. While the vehicle, without the payload and fairing, was rolled horizontally from its integration hangar, as of 7 p.m. EDT (23:00 GMT) May 3 it has not been raised vertically.
Static fire tests are performed to verify all systems are functioning as designed. This includes both ground support equipment and the rocket. It involves fully fueling both stages of the Falcon 9 as the teams would during a normal countdown, culminating in a brief ignition of the nine Merlin 1D engines at the base of the first stage.
As of May 3, the Bangabandhu-1 mission was still targeting the opening of a 2 hour, 25 minute launch window that begins at 4 p.m. EDT (20:00 GMT) May 7. However, media outlets in Bangladesh, the country of origin for the company that will operate the geostationary communications satellite, have suggested that the launch date may slip because of “technical reasons,” presumably on the satellite. This has not been confirmed by SpaceX, although the company does not typically make a launch date official until after the static fire test.
Regardless of when the mission is set to fly, it will mark the inaugural flight of a Block 5 Falcon 9. The launch vehicle is said to have numerous upgrades, including increased engine thrust, more thermal protection around the engines at the bottom of the first stage, a thermal protection coating on the first stage, redesigned carbon overwrapped pressure vessels, and many other upgrades to allow for rapid reusability.
Probably the most visible change is the color of both the landing legs and interstage. Rather than being painted white, they will remain in their black, unpainted state.
SpaceX said it is aiming to fly each Block 5 first stages 10 times or more with refurbishment lasting only weeks between each flight. Block 3 and Block 4 cores currently require several months worth of refurbishment and are only being reused once.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.
Just amazing how SpaceX have made a revolutionary evolutionary of the Falcon 9 in less than a decade. Let this be an object lesson in 21st century rocketry to the procrastinatory strategy of NASA’s preferred allies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK (soon to be Northrop Grumman).
Even with many more years of NASA and U.S. Air Force investment, their rocket development is light years behind that of Elon Musk and (dare I say) Jeff Bezos. It speaks volumes that China, Europe and Russia all view the Block 5 F9 as a major threat to their share of the global satellite launching market in the 2020s.
Hopefully, this will also clear one of the last remaining hurdles for SpaceX to receive certification from NASA for manned spaceflight with the Falcon 9 platform. If they have solved the engine blade cracking problem with the Block 5 redesign, that’s a big win.