Get ready, because we’re about to witness a little bit of history. At 6.27pm EDT (11.27pm BST) today, SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket with a first stage that has flown before.
The launch will take place from the historic Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket will be taking the SES-10 telecoms satellite to orbit, from Luxembourg-based SES, who were SpaceX’s first ever commercial customer.
There is a 2.5-hour launch window for today’s flight, with an 80 percent chance of favorable weather according to the 45th Space Wing, who runs Cape Canaveral operations. SpaceX will have a live stream running here, which we’ve also embedded below.
All eyes will be on the rocket. The first stage of this three-stage vehicle flew back in April 2016, taking a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) on a cargo mission. After months of refurbishment and testing, it’s now about to fly again. This launch was supposed to take place in October 2016, but was delayed when a SpaceX rocket exploded during a routine test.
Reusability has been one of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s goals all along, and now we’re hours away from seeing his dream become a reality. This will not be the first-ever reusable rocket; Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin flew their New Shepard suborbital vehicle five times across 2015 and 2016, while the boosters on the side of NASA’s Space Shuttle – as well as the shuttle itself – were recovered and reused.
SpaceX, though, is hoping that its method of reusability – landing the first stage of the rocket back on the ground with deployable legs – will lead to a reduction in cost that the Space Shuttle never achieved. At the moment it costs about $60 million to launch a Falcon 9, but reusing the first stage could reduce this by 10 percent or more.
“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX, in a statement in August last year.
And it’s not just cost. SpaceX hopes that by launching and landing rockets, and quickly refurbishing them, it will be able to perform a launch every two to three weeks. Currently, in 2017 it is about double that.
Back in April, this first stage landed on the drone ship called Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean. The same location and drone ship will try to capture it again this time around. And if it all goes well, we’ll be witnessing a rather fantastic moment in the history of spaceflight.
The first stage landed last year. Now, it will fly again. SpaceX