Countdown to SpaceX's first-ever launch of a used rocket

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday that, in a first for the company, features a first stage that was used on a previous flight.

"This is a huge day", Musk told reporters after the launch. "That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space".

"Congratulations on another historic launch", the USA space agency NASA wrote on Twitter.

SpaceX is slated to launch SES-10, a commercial communications satellite, into orbit Thursday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. It landed on one of SpaceX's two autonomous drone ships, Of Course I Still Love You, and was returned to the company and readied for a second launch.

During a press event with reporters at Port Canaveral on Tuesday, SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell said SpaceX provided SES with "tremendous transparency" into many aspects of the first stage, ranging from design to avionics to engines.

Previously, the first stage of the rocket for the SES-10 mission flew in a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station cargo for the the US space agency NASA in April 2016.

"It's the difference between having airplanes that you threw away after every flight, verses reusing them multiple times", said Elon Musk on SpaceX's live video feed right after the successful landing.

The photo made available by USA space firm SpaceX on March 30, 2017 shows the company's Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States.

A Falcon 9 rocket costs about $62 million total, but fuel is just a relatively small portion of that.

SpaceX has been working toward its goal of using recycled rockets for more than a year.

SpaceX has been circumspect about the extent to which this Falcon 9 first stage had to be refurbished for the reuse flight.

Nonetheless, Musk said the current plan is to launch the first Falcon Heavy this summer.

Proving the concept works is crucial to SpaceX, which is moving on from an accident in September that damaged another Florida site.

It should also be noted that, as NASA Spaceflight points out, the Space Shuttle was technically an orbital-class rocket that achieved partial reusability as well.

The rocket's second-stage, which is not recovered, will continue firing to carry SES-10 into an initial egg-shaped orbit high above Earth.

  • Carolyn Briggs