In yet another milestone reached by the private spaceflight company, SpaceX launched and successfully landed a previously used booster rocket last Thursday.
The successful launch, which delivered a communications satellite into orbit for a Belgian based company called SES, used a Falcon 9 booster rocket that was successfully recovered after its first flight last year. Both achievements marked breakthroughs for spaceflight – the successful launch of a previously used booster rocket, followed by landing the rocket yet again on an ocean platform, recovering it successfully to be used again in the future.
The massive costs involved in building booster rockets to be used just once represented one of the major obstacles to making spaceflight more available. The ability to reuse booster rockets marks a huge breakthrough for the private spaceflight company.
“This is a huge day,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “My mind’s blown.”
“It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit-class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, hopefully, a huge revolution in spaceflight,” he added.
The company has been working for over a decade to prove the rockets can viably be reused. Musk says the next step is to develop a process to successfully turn around boosters for relaunch within 24 hours of landing. The CEO says that goal may be accomplished by the end of this year.
“The potential is there for over 100-fold reduction in the cost of access to space. If we can achieve that, it means humanity can become a space-faring civilization and be out there among the stars. This is what we want for the future,” Musk said.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, after which the booster’s main section separated for its second ocean landing, and another spaceflight breakthrough.
SpaceX first landed a reusable rocket in December of 2015, and has repeated the feat successfully eight times since.
SpaceX has said it hopes to reduce costs by 30 percent by using reusable boosters. However, Musk’s company spent at least 1 billion developing the technology to land and relaunch the boosters. The rockets are expected to make 10 flights without any refurbishment, and as many as 100 with some reconditioning. Musk said the rocket launched Thursday, however, will be donated to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport to be displayed for the public.