SpaceX has succeeded in re-launching one of its Falcon 9 rockets for the first time ever, an undertaking that saw the first-ever reflight of an entire orbital class rocket — by anyone. The achievement is a key ingredient in SpaceX’s long-term business plan for making rocket launches more affordable and accessible to corporate and government customers, fundamentally changing the economics of spaceflight in ways that pave the way for more ambitious projects, including an eventual trip to Mars.
This rocket was first used last year, when it was the first Falcon 9 rocket to successfully land on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships at sea. That happened in April, during the CRS-8 mission, a resupply mission for the International Space Station. It’s since undergone a barrage of testing to ensure it’s ready to successfully fly again.
“We’re not one-way trip to Mars people, we want to make sure people can come back,” explained SpaceX president Gwen Shotwell in a pre-launch interview. “And that means you need a reusable rocket system.” She added that eventually, the goal is to land and re-launch on the same day — the Falcon 9 rocket used here took about four months to repurpose for reuse, she added.
Both fully reusable rockets and rockets that you can reuse quickly are key to truly blowing open the doors on the commercial spaceflight market, according to SpaceX.
SES-10, the mission which saw this record-breaking achievement, is a launch of a telecommunications satellite for corporate customer SES. This is the third launch SpaceX has completed for SES, and is the 11th satellite that SES will be putting into orbit. The satellite is a geostationary orbital satellite, which means it’ll remain in a fixed position orbiting the Earth once it has been delivered by the rocket to its final deployment position.
The SES-10 satellite was successfully deployed as of 6:59 PM EDT, meaning the entire mission in all regards is a success, including the part involving the paying customer. Oh, and the making history bit.