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SpaceX scores another first with rocket reuse

Posted March 31

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on a refurbished booster previously landed off the Florida coast nearly a year earlier. (Credit: SpaceX)

A (used) Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Thursday at 6:27 p.m. At the top of the 23-story rocket was SES-10, a communications satellite which will enable Luxembourg-based SES SA to improve delivery of television, internet and other services to Latin America. But, much of the focus of the launch was at the other end of the rocket.

SpaceX was the first to successfully land a rocket capable of orbital flight. On Thursday, the company made history by reusing that booster in launching another payload into orbit.

The rocket’s first stage was previously used on April 8, 2016, to lift the CRS-8 resupply mission to the International Space Station. Eight and a half minutes later, the first stage stuck the landing on a drone ship off the Atlantic coast, the second successful landing and first successful one at sea.

Falcon 9 booster landing

That booster then underwent four months of refurbishment and inspection. Upgrades are planned to shorten that turnaround time to be measured in days and so that each rocket can be reused up to a dozen times.

While the private company has not disclosed how much discount SES got for launching on a used rocket, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has said reusable rockets could eventually cut launch prices by 30 percent.

The $6 million fairing used to protect the payload during launch also returned on a parachute and was successfully recovered for reuse.

Blue Origin, founded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has also achieved rocket re-use. While the company’s New Shepherd rockets are capable of traveling beyond 100 km altitude commonly accepted as the edge of space, they are not capable of achieving orbit or inserting a payload into orbit.

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