Cape Canaveral (US) : SpaceX has launched its first recycled rocket, 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 yesterday, 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 soared before on an orbital mission.
This particular first stage landed on an ocean platform almost exactly a year ago after a space station launch for NASA. SpaceX refurbished and tested the 15-foot booster, still sporting its nine original engines. It aimed for another vertical landing at sea once it was finished boosting the satellite for the SES company of Luxembourg.
Longtime customer SES got a discount for agreeing to use a salvaged rocket, but wouldn't say how much. It's not just about the savings, said chief technology officer Martin Halliwell.
Halliwell called it "a big step for everybody -- something 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 everything would go well. SES, in fact, is considering more launches later this year on reused Falcon boosters.
"Someone has to go first," Halliwell said at a news conference earlier in the week.
Boosters typically are discarded following liftoff, sinking into the Atlantic.
SpaceX began flying back the Falcon's first-stage, kerosene-fueled boosters in 2015; it's 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 the proper, high orbit is abandoned.