In December 2015, SpaceX became the first company to land part of an orbital rocket on the ground. Since then, they've landed five more. And now, for the first time, one of those rockets will fly for a second time – surely the true dawn of the reusable rocket era.
Yes, SpaceX has made no secret of its desire to lower the costs of launching to space by flying rockets again and again. You’ve probably heard it a million times before, but it’s the old airplane analogy: We don’t scrap planes after every flight. Why should we do the same for rockets?
And yesterday, a satellite manufacturer – SES, based in Luxembourg – has said it will launch its upcoming satellite SES-10, a geostationary telecommunications satellite for Latin America, on a reused Falcon 9 rocket. Or, to use their own terminology, a “flight-proven” rocket.
“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,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES, 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.”
A SpaceX spokesperson told IFLScience this flight would take place in the fall this year, although an exact date has not yet been released. The rocket will use the first stage from the first Falcon 9 barge landing back in April (the second stage that gives the satellite its last boost to orbit will be brand new, though). The first rocket to land, in December 2015, is being used as a museum piece at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
It’s understood SES is getting a discount for the launch, as it's a reusable rocket, although the exact pricing is not known. Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, has said previously that reusable rockets should allow for a 30 percent reduction in price, with each SpaceX launch costing about $60 million.
“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” Shotwell said in the statement.
SES has been an ardent supporter of SpaceX, going so far as to sign up for this launch before SpaceX has even performed a test flight of a reused rocket – although it has tested them on the ground. And, for SpaceX, this isn’t the only exciting development in the pipeline, with Elon Musk set to reveal its plans for Mars on September 27 at the International Aeronautical Congress (IAC) in Mexico, and the company planning its first unmanned mission to Mars in 2018.
Good times ahead for SpaceX then, it seems.