SpaceX halts countdown of first commercial launch of updated Falcon 9 rocket in Florida

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off in April 2018, carrying a Nasa satellite.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off in April 2018, carrying a Nasa satellite.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AFP) - With less than a minute before launch on Thursday (May 10), SpaceX aborted the liftoff of its new Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, which the California-based company promises to be more powerful and easier to re-use.

The next launch opportunity opens May 11, with a slightly more than two-hour window starting at opening at 4.14pm (4.14am on Friday, Singapore time) and ending at 6.21pm.

“The vehicle and payload are in good health,” said a SpaceX spokesman, who was unable to give a precise reason for the aborted launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The rocket’s main goal for its maiden mission is to propel the first high-orbit communications satellite for Bangladesh, called Bangabandhu Satellite-1.

Eventually, the rocket is slated to launch humans to the International Space Station, aboard SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule, still under development.

The first crew launch is tentatively planned for December 2018.

When that happens, it will mark the first time since the end of the US space shuttle programme in 2011 that a rocket has launched from the United States carrying people to space.

The Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket is built to re-fly up to 10 times with minimal refurbishment, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk told reporters ahead of the launch.

“We expect there would be literally no action taken between flights, so just like aircraft,” Musk said.

“It has taken us – man, it’s been since 2002 – 16 years of extreme effort and many, many iterations, and thousands of small but important changes to get to where we think this is even possible,” he added.

“Crazy hard.” The Block 5 rocket is the final upgrade for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 fleet. Next, the company plans to focus on its heavy-lift rocket, called BFR.