SpaceX's Historic Launch Proves Recycled Rockets Are the Future of Space Exploration

Andrew Cummings
April 12, 2017

SpaceX achieved a space industry first in December 2015 when its Falcon 9 rocket booster successfully landed upright on solid ground at Cape Canaveral, Florida, after launching 11 small satellites into orbit. This historic milestone was described as a "huge revolution in spaceflight" by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk following the mission.

Roughly 10 minutes later, the Falcon 9 made its second visit to "Of Course I Still Love You" off the coast of Florida, landing right in the center of the landing-pad bullseye.

The recovery of the Falcon 9 means that not only did SpaceX reuse its rocket with this launch - it can also potentially use it again, after more stress testing and evaluation. Before this point however, SpaceX had to build and test an entirely new rocket for every launch. The Falcon 9's first stage for this mission was previously used on the successful CRS-8 mission in April 2016. If the first stages can be routinely reused, with no refurbishment between missions, then the cost to launch could be reduced on the order of a hundred-fold, said Musk. During its flight to the drone ship, the rocket stage will also deploy steering fins and landing legs. But the life of re-used boosters, the most expensive part of the rocket, is unknown.

Even on this first flight, SES reportedly received a significant discount for flying on a used rocket, rather than a brand new one.

The Falcon 9 carried a communications satellite and after disconnecting from it, the booster successfully landed on a platform in the heart of the ocean ready for today's launch. The primary goal is to deliver a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit - about 22,000 miles from Earth - for the company that commissioned this launch, SES.

SpaceX still has a backlog of launches it has to get through, and if costs fall further, there could very well be more private and public sector clients knocking at its door, or seeking out its competitors.

Falcon 9 launch, image courtesy of SpaceX. The SES-10 will provide improved connectivity across Latin America and will be one of the biggest satellites servicing the region.

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