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The significance of this launch is that it will be the first of what SpaceX calls the Block 5 version of this Falcon 9 first stage, a final design intended for many reuses and quick turnaround.
The star of the show is the new, unflown first stage core 1046, which is the first “Block 5” Falcon 9 first stage. Block 5 is the final major upgrade to the Falcon 9, the culmination of over 10 years of development and evolution of SpaceX’s workhorse rocket.
Block 5 has numerous advantages over past versions of the Falcon 9, notably including higher thrust engines, improved and more resilient recovery hardware, and the ability to be reflown within 48 hours of landing after a previous mission. Block 5 was also designed to meet – and in some cases exceed – NASA’s strict Commercial Crew Program requirements, which SpaceX must follow in order to be able to fly NASA astronauts, expected to begin in early 2019.
Block 5 cores are also expected to be reused 10 times before undergoing any major refurbishment, and SpaceX hopes to fly each booster up to 100 times before it is retired.
NASA has demanded that SpaceX fly at least seven different launches with the Block 5 stages before it will permit its astronauts on board (unlike SLS, where NASA has even considered flying astronauts on board with no previous test flights). Thus, getting this rocket flying is crucial to getting Americans back in space, on an American-made rocket.