Today, SpaceX and Bangladesh are experiencing historic firsts: the first sends the first version of its Falcon 9 rocket, updated for the first time, and the latter launches its first satellite. This is a preview of the democratized space economy coming up this century.
You can watch the launch below:
Although Bangabandhu-1 is really important, especially for the nation that launches it, it is not necessarily a very remarkable satellite. It must be a geostationary communications center serving the entire country and region with standard C band and Ku band connectivity for all kinds of purposes.
At present, the country spends about $ 14 million a year on satellite time leasing from other countries, which it decided to stop doing in because of its national pride and independence.
"A sovereign country, concerned with sustainable development, needs its own satellite to reduce its dependence on other nations", reads the project description of the National Commission of telecommunications regulation. for nearly a decade.
He signed a contract with Thales Alenia Space to produce and test the satellite, which cost about $ 250 million and is expected to last at least 15 years. In addition to letting the country avoid paying satellite rent, it could generate revenue by selling its services to private companies and neighboring countries.
"This satellite, which bears the symbolic name of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu, is a big step forward for telecommunications in Bangladesh, and a fantastic engine for economic development and recognition across Asia" said the CEO. Jean-Loïc Galle, in a recent article on the project.
Bangabandhu-1 will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but this one is different from all the others that flew in the past. Designed for crewed missions, it could be considered the production version of the rocket, complete with all the refinements of years of real world testing.
Most often called block 5, it is (supposedly) the final revision of the Falcon 9 hardware, safer and more reusable than previous versions. The objective is that the first stage of Block 5 launches one hundred times before being removed, far more than the handful of times that the existing Falcon 9s were reused.
There are many improvements over previous rockets, although many are small or very technical in nature. The most important, however, are easy to enumerate.
The engines themselves were improved and strengthened to allow not only greater thrust (improvement of about 7-8%) but also improved control and efficiency, especially when from the landing. They also have a new thermal shield dedicated to the descent. They are evaluated to fly 10 times without being significantly refurbished, but are also bolted rather than welded, further reducing the time of execution.
The legs on which the rocket lands are fully retractable which means that they should not be removed before transport. If you want to launch the same rocket in a few days, every minute counts.
Instead of white paint, the first step will have a thermal coating (also white) that will help keep it relatively cool during the descent.
To further reduce heat damage, the "grid fins" of the rocket, the waffle-shaped flaps that come out to control its descent, are now made of a single piece of titanium . They will not fire or melt during reentry as the previous aluminum has sometimes done, and as such are now permanently attached to the characteristics of the rocket.
(The founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, is particularly proud of these fins that flew on the side boosters of the Falcon Heavy: "I'm glad I got the side boosters, because they had the titanium If I had to choose something to come back, it would be those. ")
Finally (for our purposes anyway) the fuel tank was strengthened to address some concerns regarding the loading of super-cooled fuel while the payload – soon human, if all goes well – is attached to the rocket. This system has failed before, causing a catastrophic explosion in 2016, but the failure has been corrected and the strengthening should help to further mitigate the risks. (Emergency drop rockets should also protect astronauts in the event of a launch problem.)
The changes, while directly contributing to reuse and cost reduction, also aim to meet the requirements of NASA's commercial crew missions. SpaceX is competing to provide launch and crew capsule services for missions to the ISS, scheduled for late 2018. The company is to launch the Block 5 version of Falcon 9 (not necessarily the same rocket). exact) at least 7 times before the astronauts can board.