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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Block 5 Launch Kicks Off a New Era in Reusability

July 21, 2018, 5:03 PM UTC

Early Sunday morning, SpaceX will conduct a fairly routine launch that also marks a new era for the company. From this point on, SpaceX will only launch the final “Block 5” version of the Falcon 9 rocket, optimized both for power and reusability.

The launch window for the Telstar 19 VANTAGE mission opens at 1:50 a.m. Eastern time Sunday morning. The rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida and carry a Telesat communication satellite which will provide data services in North and South America. A live stream of the launch will be available from SpaceX.

As is now routine for SpaceX launches, the first stage of the rocket is expected to return to Earth and land on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Portions of the Block 5 rocket, according to SpaceX, can be reused up to 10 times with minimal refurbishing and quick turnaround, and dozens of times with more thorough refurbishment. The previous version of the Falcon 9, the Block 4, was designed to be reused far fewer times before being retired.

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The Block 5 was first flown and successfully landed in May, but the Block 4 rockets weren’t fully retired until a final launch on June 29, a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The transition to the Block 5 advances SpaceX’s overarching goal of lowering spaceflight costs by reusing major rocket components. That pursuit has already given the company a commercial edge, and reusability is also key to CEO Elon Musk’s plans for a future Mars colony.

The Block 5 is planned to be the version of the Falcon 9 that carries human crew members to the International Space Station. To qualify for that task, the rocket must be safely launched in the same configuration seven times. That landmark is expected to be reached quickly, with NASA currently targeting December of this year for a crewed SpaceX trip to the ISS. Boeing is scheduled for a November crewed mission, which will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to deliver a Boeing Starliner capsule to the station.