More than five years after SpaceX first announced plans to develop a privately-funded reusable launch system, the California-based company will re-launch a previously-used Falcon 9 booster rocket for the first time on Thursday, The Verge and other media outlets are reporting.
The historic launch, which the science and technology news website said could be “a watershed moment for the aerospace industry,” will re-use the 14-story-tall first stage of the second Falcon 9 to have already successfully launched and landed on a mission to place a satellite into orbit.
The Falcon 9 that will be featured in Thursday’s take-off attempt was previously used to send a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station (ISS), according to Gizmodo. It is set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 6 pm on Thursday, with a 70 percent chance that weather conditions will be favorable for the scheduled liftoff.
To prepare for the voyage, SpaceX performed a successful static fire test of the booster engines on Monday, Space.com reported earlier this week. The cargo on the upcoming mission will be a communications satellite developed by Luxembourg-based SES that will provide service to Latin America from a geostationary orbit roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.
A successful lift-off could affect the entire aerospace industry
Thursday’s launch will mark the first time that SpaceX will attempt to reuse one of its boosters, and while they were technically beaten to the punch by Blue Origin (which re-launched one of its rockets last year), the company plans to attempt to once again land the Falcon 9 upright so that it could be used a third time. That would be an aerospace first.
This has been in the works at SpaceX for a long time. The Elon Musk-owned company revealed back in 2011 that it was working on developing a reusable rocket program, and since then, there have been several successful landings (and, unfortunately, a few failures along the way).
The goal has been to reduce the cost of rocket launches by eliminating the need to build a whole new booster system after every mission, which could save hundreds of millions of dollars, according to The Verge. In fact, Space.com reported that SpaceX gave SES a discount for using one of its reusable rockets, charging less than its normal fee of $62 million.
“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell explained to the media in a statement. “We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management.”
“If a company like SpaceX… can reduce the cost of launch, it has a major ripple implication across the whole space enterprise,” Bobby Braun, dean of the University of Colorado-Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science, told Gizmodo. “I think the whole space community is rooting for SpaceX to be successful, not only on its own merits, but because of this ripple [that a successful launch] could have across the whole economy.”
Image credit: SpaceX