Next SpaceX launch may be one of the last expendable F9 boosters
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When SpaceX launches the EchoStar 23 satellite atop a Full Thrust Falcon 9 rocket, currently scheduled for Feb. 3, the company won’t attempt to land the booster’s first stage. The stage will consume too much fuel lifting the 12,125-pound (5,500-kilogram) satellite toward a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) to have enough in reserve for even an at-sea landing. Elon Musk stated the F9 would be expendable in a tweet on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.
Musk added that future flights of this type would be on a Falcon Heavy rocket or an upgraded Falcon 9. Both rockets would be able to launch a payload the same weight as EcoStar 23 and have enough fuel remaining for a landing.
During an Oct. 23, 2016, Reddit AMA, Musk discussed an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 that he referred to as “Block 5”. The new version will have improved legs, increased thrust and other enhancements designed to make landing and refurbishing the rocket for reuse easier.
In another tweet, Musk called the Block 5 “the final upgrade of the Falcon architecture,” and said it would fly at the end of this year. The first flight of the Falcon Heavy booster is also expected to occur this year, but a launch date has not been set.
Another long-awaited milestone for SpaceX is the reuse of a flown first stage. SpaceX plans to use a Falcon 9 that landed in April 2016 for the launch of the SES-10 satellite. Spaceflight Now reported the launch will take place no earlier than Feb. 22.
EchoStar 23 is highly flexible, Ku-band broadcast satellite services satellite with four main reflectors and multiple sub-reflectors. It is capable of providing services from eight different orbital positions and has an expected service life of 15 years.
The EchoStar 23 launch will be SpaceX’s first from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. It will also mark the first flight from the launch pad since the final Space Shuttle mission, STS-135.
On Jan. 14, 2017, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That flight marked both the first successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first stage on the U.S. West Coast and SpaceX’s return to flight following the Sept. 1, 2016, AMOS-6 pad incident.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.