Space

SpaceX Makes History As It Launches And Lands A Reusable Rocket For The First Time

SpaceX made history yesterday when it launched and landed one of its orbital rockets that had flown before for the first time.

The groundbreaking launch took place at 6.27pm EDT (11.27pm BST) from Cape Canaveral in Florida. On board was the SES-10 telecoms satellite for Luxembourg company SES.

All the excitement was centered on the first stage of the rocket, though, which had already flown to space once in April 2016 on a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has now recovered eight of its rockets – but this is the first one to fly twice.

“It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket,” CEO Elon Musk said in a webcast shortly after the landing. “This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight.”

The first stage, sitting pretty on the drone ship after landing last night

The landing occurred about eight minutes after liftoff, with the first stage using grid fins to stabilize itself and finally firing its booster to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. The video feed momentarily cut out, but when it jumped back to show the rocket had landed, there was a rapturous celebration at SpaceX’s headquarters.

This was the ninth successful landing for SpaceX – three on land and six at sea – but arguably the most important since the first one in December 2015. Being able to fly the first stage of a rocket again and again proves rockets can be reusable. This could dramatically reduce the cost of going to space, which has been SpaceX’s goal all along.

In a press conference after the landing Musk said the first stage represented about 70 percent of the cost of each flight, but fuel cost only about 0.3 percent. With each launch expected to come in at around $60 million, reusing the first stage obviously has a huge cost benefit.

And it’s not just the first stage they want to reuse. On this flight, SpaceX surprised us all by also performing a controlled landing of the payload fairing – the clamshell metal shape on top of the rocket that protects the satellite on the way to space – at sea, using thrusters and parachutes. This itself costs about $6 million.

Here’s a replay of the launch

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