SpaceX has rescheduled the launch of its latest upgrade to the Falcon 9 rocket, the Block 5 version, after an issue was detected shortly before launch. The Falcon 9’s computers initiated an abort with just 58 seconds left in the countdown. The company later posted a Tweet that said the malfunction was just a “standard ground system abort” and that the rocket and satellite were in “good health.” The rocket is launching Bangladesh’s first geostationary communications satellite from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The upgraded Falcon 9 represents that rocket’s final iteration. The upgrades in the Block 5 version of the rocket were largely driven by requests from NASA and the U.S. military, according to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. NASA will rely on the rocket to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. The U.S. military will be using them to launch national security satellites.
The new version has greater lift capacity and its manufacturing process has been simplified. For example, the rocket’s metal engine support structure will now have a bolted design, making it easier and faster to produce. The legs now have a latch mechanism to allow for easy and repeated opening and closing. The Block 5 version of the rocket also includes new and additional thermal protection technology, upgraded electronics and guidance systems, and titanium grid fins.
Chief Executive Elon Musk said, “This rocket is really designed … to be the most reliable rocket ever built.” The company says they will be capable of being used 10 times, with minimal refurbishment. Musk estimated that the Block 5 version of the rocket will fly about 300 times before the line is retired.
The Block 5 upgrade also should decrease turnaround time between launches, which is key to lowering costs. Next year, the company plans to relaunch a Block 5 rocket within 24 hours, down from the roughly 10 days currently necessary to prepare the rockets for relaunch. SpaceX currently advertises Falcon 9 launches as starting at $62 million and a launch on a reused Falcon 9 rocket is estimated to be about $50 million. Musk wants to bring the marginal cost of a Falcon 9 launch to as low as $5 million to $6 million.