SpaceX launches Telkom Indonesia satellite on first reflight of Block 5 Falcon 9 booster

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX conducted its first relaunch of the Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket Aug. 7, successfully delivering a communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit for Telkom Indonesia.

The rocket, using a first stage that flew in May with the Bangabandhu-1 satellite for Bangladesh, lifted off at 1:18 a.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida with Telkom Indonesia’s Merah Putih satellite.

The 60-transponder, all C-band satellite separated from the rocket’s upper stage almost 32 minutes later.

SpaceX successfully landed the rocket’s first stage for a second time on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. The company did not attempt to recover the rocket’s payload fairings since “Mr Steven,” the boat equipped to catch them, is based in the Pacific Ocean.

The Block 5 is SpaceX’s final version of the Falcon 9, and features improvements to enable first-stage reuse 10 or more times.

Just three months separated today’s mission from the first launch of the same Block 5 booster. In comparison, SpaceX spent 11 months between its first-ever launch of a previously flown Falcon 9 booster in March 2017 and that rocket’s initial flight in April 2016.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, said in May that the company would likely spend a few months conducting a rigorous inspection of the first recovered Block 5 Falcon 9 booster before preparing it for another launch.

“Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm that it does not need to be taken apart,” Musk said during a May 10 call with reporters. “This rocket probably won’t refly for probably a couple of months, but by late this year we should be seeing substantial reflight of Block 5 vehicles, probably with Block 5 boosters seeing their third, maybe their fourth reflight.”

For Telkom Indonesia, the launch restores the state-owned operator’s fleet back to three satellites after one of its satellites exploded in orbit last August.

Suroso Yulianto of Telkom Indonesia’s Satellite Planning and System division declined to answer SpaceNews questions about the Telkom-1 explosion during a July 3 panel at the APSAT 2018 conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. Built by Lockheed Martin, the satellite was 18 years old, operating three years past its design life.

Abdus Somad Arief, director of Telkom Indonesia’s Wholesale and International Service division, said at APSAT 2018 that the majority of the capacity on the operator’s two other satellites was for backhauling traffic for the company’s Telkomsel cellular business.

Merah Putih, formerly called Telkom-4, replaces Telkom-1, bringing coverage to Indonesia, India and other parts of Asia to expand broadband and telephony services. Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, California, built the satellite ahead of schedule, according to Telkom Indonesia.

Merah Putih will be located at 108 degrees east longitude.