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SpaceX launches new rocket primed for future crewed missions

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An updated version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, tailored for eventual crewed missions into orbit, made its debut launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral, carrying a communications satellite for Bangladesh, reported Channel News Asia (Singapore).

The newly minted Block-5 edition of the Falcon 9 - equipped with about 100 upgrades for greater power, safety and reusability than its Block-4 predecessor - lifted off at 4:14 p.m. EDT (2014 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center.

Minutes later, the Block-5's main-stage booster flew itself back to Earth to achieve a safe return landing on an unmanned platform vessel floating in the Pacific Ocean.

The recoverable booster for the Block-5 is designed to be reused at least 10 times with minimal refurbishment between flights, allowing more frequent launches at lower cost - a key to the SpaceX business model.

Enhanced rocket reusability also is a core tenet of SpaceX owner and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's broader objectives: making space travel commonplace and ultimately sending humans to Mars.

The flight came a day after the original launch countdown was halted one minute before blastoff time due to a technical problem detected by the rocket's onboard computers. Friday's second attempt by SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies, appeared to have gone off without a hitch.

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The US space agency said today it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet, reported The New Indian Express (India).

Known simply as "The Mars Helicopter," the device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kilograms), and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball.

It will be attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover, a wheeled robot that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

Mars 2020 is planned for launch in July 2020 with an arrival on the surface of Mars expected in February 2021.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.
"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling."

No nation has ever flown a helicopter on Mars before.

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Tags: NASA, SpaceX
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