“Three, two one, zero, ignition, liftoff,” a SpaceX commentator said as the rocket launched at 4:14 pm (2014 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket’s main goal for its maiden mission is to propel the first high-orbit communications satellite for Bangladesh, called Bangabandhu Satellite-1. Its debut also marks a leap forward in re-usability for the California-based company, which is intent on bringing down the cost of spaceflight.
The rocket is built to re-fly up to 10 times with minimal refurbishment, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters on Thursday. “We expect there would be literally no action taken between flights, so just like aircraft,” Musk said. The launch was postponed at the last minute on Thursday when an automatic abort switch was triggered, but SpaceX said it was just a glitch and the spacecraft remained in good health. After liftoff, the rocket will attempt to return to an upright landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone-ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
So far, SpaceX has landed 11 of its boosters on land and 13 on its drone ship, which are floating platforms in the ocean, as part of its effort to bring down the cost of spaceflight and re-use costly rocket parts. The Block 5 Falcon 9 is eventually meant to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, with the first launch tentatively planned for December 2018. It will mark the first time since the end of the US space shuttle program in 2011 that a rocket has left US soil carrying people to space.