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SpaceX still reviewing data ahead of Block 5 Falcon 9 launch next week

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SpaceX test fired its first Block 5 Falcon 9 at Kennedy Space Center on Friday, May 4, 2018.
Emre Kelly, FLORIDA TODAY

Update, Monday:

SpaceX is now targeting no earlier than Thursday for its Block 5 Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center. Teams have a window from 4:12 p.m. to 6:22 p.m. to launch Bangabandhu-1 from pad 39A.

Original story:

SpaceX teams are preparing the newest version of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket for launch this week, though an exact date for liftoff of a commercial communications satellite from Kennedy Space Center has not yet been confirmed.

The newest generation of Falcon 9, known as Block 5, was slated to launch from KSC’s pad 39A Monday afternoon, but the company has been reviewing data from a test firing of the rocket’s nine Merlin main engines since Friday.

“Falcon 9 Block 5 static test fire complete ahead of next week’s launch of Bangladesh’s first geostationary communications satellite,” SpaceX said via Twitter after the 7:25 p.m. brief test fire, its last update on the mission. “Vehicle is healthy. Data review will take a few days – will confirm a target launch date once that review is complete.”

The Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, meanwhile, expects 70 percent “go” conditions if the launch occurs Monday and 80 percent “go” conditions if it targets Tuesday. Ultimately, however, readiness of the rocket and an appropriate launch date is dependent on SpaceX’s review of the vehicle and payload, labeled Bangabandhu-1.

[Watch SpaceX test fire its new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket at KSC]

[Launch schedule: Upcoming Florida rocket launches and landings]

The nearly 8,000-pound satellite will deliver communications services to Asia ranging from Turkmenistan to the Philippines with the Bangladesh Communications Satellite Company, located roughly in the middle, as its operator. Bangladesh will become the 58th country in history to operate a geostationary satellite after it reaches orbit.

The mission will debut Block 5 of Falcon 9, which features upgraded reusability features and overall enhancements learned from two years of launching, landing and re-launching rockets. The booster’s heat shield, for example, which is located at the base, has been reworked to allow additional reuses without as much refurbishment as older Block 4 models.

Block 4s were flown no more than two times; Block 5s, however, could fly up to 10 times or more, CEO Elon Musk said last year. That could help the company reduce turnaround time between launches, save on costs and launch more often with fewer rockets.

Bangabandhu-1 will mark the first launch from pad 39A since Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s three-core vehicle, vaulted off the pad on Feb. 6 with the now-iconic Tesla Roadster and “Starman.”

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at @EmreKelly.

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