SpaceX launches SES-10 satellite, lands in first reuse of orbital rocket

The satellite will help to provide TV services to Latin America.

In a flight that could revolutionize the future of space missions, Hawthorne-based SpaceX successfully launched a communications satellite into orbit Thursday using a rocket that was previously sent into space and recovered intact instead of being allowed to burn up or crash into the ocean. When the times comes to launch something into orbit again that first stage needs to be rebuilt.

Musk's company expects that reusing rockets will eventually reduce its cost by 30 percent, to $42.8 million per rocket launch from today's $61.2 million cost.

"I think it's an awesome day for space", said Musk.

The first "flight proven" booster to go back to space made the trip nearly one year after it was used to launch a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station last April. "If we can achieve that, it means humanity can become a space-faring civilization and be out there among the stars", said Musk. He paid tribute to the SpaceX team, saying "it's been 15 years to get to this point". And it's not as if the Falcon 9 rockets are ready to fly again as soon as they land. Besides becoming the first commercial cargo hauler to the International Space Station, SpaceX is building a capsule to launch Nasa astronauts as soon as next year.

"We're really looking for true operational reusability like an aircraft", SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said during a launch webcast.

The landing marked the ninth successful touchdown of a first stage rocket for SpaceX - six on ocean platforms, or drone ships, and three on land. The company is also working towards launching two paying customers to the moon in 2018. It was the first such Falcon 9 landing attempt that didn't end in a spectacular explosion.

"The SES-10 mission will mark a historic milestone on the road to full and rapid reusability as the world's first reflight of an orbital class rocket", SpaceX said in a statement. With this rocket recycling, SpaceX has proven that you don't have to have the resources of an entire nation to go to space.

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.

Reusing rockets is core to SpaceX's mission, which is to bring down the cost of space travel. It's taken us a long time - a lot of hard steps along the way. So if a rocket could simply be refueled like a jetliner for another flight, the cost of space travel could drop to a fraction of what it is now.

  • Zachary Reyes