SpaceX launches Indonesian comsat

An artist’s impression of the Merah Putih communications satellite launched early Tuesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The powerful relay station is owned by PT Telkom, the largest telecommunications provider in Indonesia.

PT Telkom

SpaceX launched the first previously-flown “block 5” version of its Falcon 9 rocket early Tuesday carrying an Indonesian communications satellite. The California rocket builder planned an attempt to recover the first stage booster with an autonomous landing on an offshore droneship.

It was only the fourth flight of an upgraded block 5 booster since the rocket’s debut in May and the first launch and attempted recovery of a previously flown block 5, the same rocket that helped launch a Bangladeshi satellite during its maiden flight three months ago.

The block 5 is the rocket SpaceX founder Elon Musk is counting on to launch astronauts to the International Space Station starting next year, the centerpiece of the company’s drive to lower launch costs while improving reliability. Going into Tuesday’s flight, SpaceX’s record stood at 59 successful Falcon 9 launches in 60 flights, with 27 successful booster recoveries, 12 on land and 15 on droneships.

But the primary goal of Tuesday’s flight was to boost the Merah Putih — “Red and White” — communications satellite into orbit for PT Telkom, the largest provider of telecommunications services in Indonesia. The name refers to the red and while colors of Indonesia’s flag.

The 12,800-pound satellite, built by SSL, features 60 C-band transponders to provide mobile services across Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

The mission got underway at 1:18 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) when the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D engines ignited and throttled up to full thrust, producing a brilliant plume of fiery exhaust and billowing clouds of steam from cooling water sprayed onto pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

After a lightning-fast series of computer checks, the 229-foot-tall rocket was released from its firing stand, quickly accelerating skyward atop 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

With its brilliant exhaust plume visible for miles around, the Falcon 9 smoothly arced away to the east over the Atlantic Ocean, putting on a spectacular overnight show for area residents and tourists who stayed up late to catch a glimpse of the rocket.

The flight plan called for the Merah Putih satellite to be released into an initially elliptical orbit about a half-hour after launch.

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