Historic SpaceX rocket launch could transform spaceflight

Today, Elon Musk's company made history by successfully relaunching and re-landing a used Falcon 9 rocket booster for the first time.

SpaceX is about to launch a Falcon 9 rocket that it landed in April of past year.

"It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket", said Elon Musk after the successful landing.

The booster's main section was set to attempt to land itself on a floating platform in the ocean, which would enable its recovery for a possible third mission. It nailed another vertical landing at sea on Thursday once it had finished boosting the satellite for the SES company, from Luxembourg. "We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management", Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES said. The achievement is a key ingredient in SpaceX's long-term business plan for making rocket launches more affordable and accessible to corporate and government customers, fundamentally changing the economics of spaceflight in ways that pave the way for more ambitious projects, including an eventual trip to Mars.

Traditionally, rocket bodies are discarded after one use, but SpaceX has figured out a way to bring them back to Earth and refurbish them to fly multiple missions.

Blue Origin, an aerospace company started by another tech billionaire, Jeff Bezos, already has reflown a rocket.

As for this SpaceX reused booster, Halliwell said engineers went through it with a fine-toothed comb following its liftoff in April 2016.

The SES-10 communications satellite is on its way to a geosynchronous orbit where it will provide services to Latin America. "It's a bit sooty", he said with a smile. That happened in April, during the CRS-8 mission, a resupply mission for the International Space Station.

SpaceX - which aims to launch up to six reused boosters this year, two of them with the yet-to-fly, super-sized Falcon Heavy in late summer - is familiar with uncharted territory.

  • Carolyn Briggs