SpaceX is taking the first steps in its final tests to transport humans into outer space.
The company has revealed plans to launch its Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket this Thursday and if all goes well, that craft could be ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station in roughly a year.
The Block 5 is unique, even among SpaceX craft. Designed to meet NASA’s requirements to carry a crew, it’s also highly reusable. SpaceX says it can fly again just 48 hours after a launch and the rocket can be fired ten times with few refurbishments.
That rapid turnaround on flights could cut the cost of spaceflight considerably, which Elon Musk believes is the key to achieving a manned flight to Mars. First, though, the Block 5 has to complete seven unmanned flights.
As a result, Thursday’s launch won’t be manned. The SpaceX rocket will take Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu-1 communications satellite into orbit.
The Block 5 launch is more than just the run-up for manned spaceflight. Musk has reportedly said it’s the last launch system that will debut before SpaceX begins to consolidate its technology into a massive rocket called the BFR, which he hopes to use on the journey to Mars.
Musk says that flight could launch as soon as early 2019.