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Elon Musk's SpaceX Debuts Rocket Built for Rapid Relaunches

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SpaceX Launches Rapid Reuse Falcon 9 Rocket

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched its more reusable rocket for the first time, a major step forward in reducing the cost of the closely held company’s missions.

The Falcon 9 Block 5 carried Bangladesh’s first geostationary communications satellite toward orbit on Friday. It’s the latest -- and final -- major upgrade by SpaceX to its workhorse rocket and is built to handle at least 10 flights with limited refurbishment.

The Block 5 upgrades to Falcon 9 include more powerful engines, a stronger heat shield for the trip back through Earth’s atmosphere and new retractable landing legs. Within the next year, Chief Executive Elon Musk wants to fly the same rocket twice within a 24-hour period. Making space missions more like commercial airline flights would be dramatically cheaper -- less money would be wasted discarding vehicles after one or just a handful of launches.

The Bangabandhu Satellite-1, which will provide broadband connectivity to rural areas throughout the country, deployed about half an hour after the launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX landed the rocket’s first stage back on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s now recovered boosters back on land or sea 25 times.

The Falcon 9 Block 5 is the rocket SpaceX intends to use to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, a plant that’s pending National Aeronautics Space Administration certification and approval. Before allowing the company to fly a human crew, the agency wants to see that Block 5 can launch repeatedly with no issues.

(Updates with satellite deployment in fourth paragraph.)
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