SpaceX launches recycled rocket; calls it ‘milestone’
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. — SpaceX launched its first recycled rocket Thursday, the biggest leap yet in its bid to drive down costs and speed up flights.
The Falcon 9 blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, hoisting a broadcasting satellite into the early evening clear sky on the historic rocket reflight.
It was the first time SpaceX founder Elon Musk tried to fly a booster that had soared before on an orbital mission. He was at a loss for words after the booster landed on the bull’s-eye of an ocean platform following liftoff, just off Florida’s east coast.
Musk called it an “incred- ible milestone in the history of space” after the booster landed.
He added: “This is going to be a huge revolution in spaceflight.”
The rocket’s flight came almost exactly a year ago after its first one, a journey to the International Space Station for NASA. SpaceX refurbished and tested the 15-foot booster, still sporting its nine originalengines,for its second launch.
Longtime customer SES, the Belgian firm that owns the satellite, got a discount for agreeing to use a sal- vaged rocket, but wouldn’t say how much. It’s not just about the savings, said chief technology officer Martin Halliwell, who called it “a big step for everybody — some- thing that’s never, ever been done before.”
SpaceX granted SES insight into the entire process of getting the booster ready to fly again, Halliwell said, providing confidence every- thing would go well, and the company is considering more launches later this year on reused Falcon boosters.
“Someone has to go first,” Halliwell said at a news conference.
Boosters typically are discarded following liftoff, sinking into the Atlantic. SpaceX instead began landing the Falcon’s first-stage, kerosene-fueled boosters in 2015; it has since landed eight, three at Cape Canaveral and five on ocean platforms. The company is working on a plan to recycle even more Falcon parts, like the satellite enclosure. For now, the second stage used to get the satellite into high orbit is abandoned.
The first stage represents the most expensive part of the rocket, according to Musk.
Blue Origin, an aerospace company started by another tech billionaire, Jeff Bezos, already had reflown a rocket, but in suborbital flights.
NASA also has shared the quest for rocket reusability. During the space shuttle program, the twin booster rockets dropped away two minutes into flight and parachuted into the Atlantic for recovery. The booster segments were m ixed a nd matched for each flight.
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. It’s also working to fly two paying customers to the moon next year, and is developing the Red Dragon, a robotic spacecraft intended to launch to Mars in 2020 and land. Musk’s ultimate goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars.