SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon 9 Block 5 at 4:14 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral in Florida, signaling the final major upgrade to the Falcon 9 rocket. The milestone launch of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 will be Bangladesh’s first geostationary communications satellite.
While the launch was originally planned for Thursday, during its final countdown, the Falcon 9 flight computer did its last series of checks and came across an abort signal from a ground system relay and immediately stopped the launch. This turned out to be a minor error but the team at SpaceX said it was important to delay the launch anyway.
“There are a thousand ways a launch can go wrong, and only one way it can go right,” materials engineer Michael Hammersley explained before liftoff on Friday. “The vehicle is designed to stop the countdown at the slightest hint of anything that seems off nominal.”
Turns out this particular abort signal was “an artifact from an earlier sequence that was completed successfully but did not properly reset.” Friday’s launch went off without a hitch, with the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 deployed into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) approximately 33 minutes after launch.
SpaceX says the Block 5 “is designed to be capable of ten or more flights with very limited refurbishment.” It’s all for the cause of “rapid reusability and extremely high reliability.” The first stage of the rocket rocket landed safely on Earth, on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You,” floating 340 miles southeast of Kennedy Space Center in the Atlantic Ocean.
Deploying the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 will have a monumental impact on Bangladesh and the surrounding areas. The satellite, which is comprised of 26 Ku-band and 14 C-band transponders, will be operated by the Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited (BCSCL). The satellite will offer Ku-band and C-band coverage over Bangladesh and its territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal, as well as India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
The Falcon 9 has seen many changes since its launch failure back in September 2016. The Block 5 has also undergone several upgrades ahead of Friday’s launch and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is steadfast that it can be fully reusable. “If we can reuse the entire vehicle,” he said on Thursday, “we can bring the launch cost by an order of magnitude.”
Until that goal is achieved, SpaceX will be adding heat-shields to the upperstage until the Block can be recovered. While Musk rushes to meet that goal, Bangabandhu Satellite-1 will already a game changer for Bangladesh. The satellite’s mission is expected to last at least 15 years provide broadband connectivity to rural areas throughout the country.