SpaceX launches re­cy­cled rocket; calls it ‘mile­stone’

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Marcia Dunn

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.

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