What to Know
- Thursday's launch was scrubbed at Cape Canaveral in Florida, pushing it back to Friday afternoon
- The launch is the first for SpaceX's refurbished Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, a more durable version bound for future re-use
- New fins help guide the rocket's first stage back to Earth after delivering a satellite into orbit
Southern California-based SpaceX made yet another rocket-industry advancement Friday with the first launch of its refurbished Falcon 9 rocket, designed to make it more durable for re-use in future missions.
The launch was scheduled for Thursday, but was delayed until early Friday afternoon, when the rocket rumbled to life on the Cape Canaveral launch pad and soared over the Florida coast. An audience of employees watching the launch live video feed cheered when the rocket's first stage landed back on a platform on Earth -- the 25th time SpaceX has re-captured a first stage for re-use.
Its payload is the Bangladesh Communications Satellite Co.'s first orbital satellite, dubbed Bangabandhu-1. The satellite is expected to expand communication capabilities across Bangladesh and in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Known as the Falcon 9 Block 5, the upgraded rocket includes improvements such as upgraded heat shields to protect the rocket's base during re-entry. The Block 5 is also outfitted with improved navigation fins -- which help guide the rocket's first stage back to Earth after delivering a satellite into orbit -- made from fire-resistant titanium.
The upgrades are all designed to make Falcon 9 rockets, which SpaceX has already been recovering and using multiple times to cut costs on future missions, even more durable. Company officials have said the Block 5 model could potentially be used 10 times or more, while the current Falcon 9s have never been used more than twice.
Reusing the rockets is a major cost-saving step for space travel. Although SpaceX has never fully divulged manufacturing costs, experts have estimated that the first stage of the rocket can cost up to $40 million alone. That's more than half of the estimated overall $62 million price of the Falcon 9, according to various trade publications.