A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the sky around Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida early Tuesday with a successful launch, placing an Indonesian telecommunications satellite into orbit and demonstrating the reusability of the company's upgraded booster.
SpaceX successfully landed the rocket's first stage for a second time on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean.
Its primary goal is to launch a 5.8-ton satellite called Merah Putih meant to improve telecommunications in Indonesia, India, and much of Southeast Asia.
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The block 5 is the rocket SpaceX founder Elon Musk is counting on to launch astronauts to the International Space Station starting next year, the centerpiece of the company's drive to lower launch costs while improving reliability.
A view of Falcon 9 B1046.2's first stage engine plume expanding as the rocket reaches thinner air. The launch was used to deliver the Merah Putih satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit.
With the third reuse now explicitly on the table for B1046 "later this year", Falcon 9 has broken a two-launch ceiling that long loomed over its older predecessors. The Block 5 had its initial launch on May 11.
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In the tiny hours of Tuesday morning, SpaceX launched an Indonesian satellite in its 15th flight this year.
Pre-programmed commands gently nudged the satellite away from the rocket at the mission's 32-minute mark, and live views from the Falcon 9 rocket showed the Merah Putih spacecraft separating from the Falcon 9's second stage over Africa. "We are going to be very rigorous in taking this rocket apart and confirming our design assumptions to be confident that it is indeed able to be reused without taking it apart", Musk said. So after the May launch, Musk said, "Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm it does not need to be taken apart", as Ars Technica reports.
He said the Block 5's first stage booster is created to fly 10 times "with no scheduled refurbishment".
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Update 1:50 AM ET: Merah Putih is in position. Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, California, built the satellite ahead of schedule, according to Telkom Indonesia. The new satellite will service Indonesia and Southeast Asia.