SpaceX Gears Up For Historic Launch Of Reused Rocket

Posted March 30, 2017

A new robot is expected to debut after the booster touches down to remotely safe and secure the rocket on the deck of the barge, or drone ship, for the trip back to Port Canaveral. SpaceX's customers have purchased the rocket services before launching satellites and supplies for space stations.

SpaceX is also working on a much larger launch system dubbed Falcon Heavy.

During today's static fire test, the rocket's first and second stages are fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown is carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition. The actions were most unusual, as almost all rocket parts fall into the ocean after launching, they sink and are never recovered or seen again. But this mission has the potential to be historic.

The mission won't fly from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station until after the Falcon 9's upcoming attempts.

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The Falcon 9's first stage will separate after a 2.5-minute burn to send the satellite on its trajectory towards orbit. This process is better known under the name of supersonic retro propulsion.

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SpaceX has tried landing most of the rockets it has launched over the last two years, either by having them touch down at a ground-based landing site or by landing them on one of two autonomous drone ships in the ocean. SpaceX has now attempted 13 actual landings, successfully recovering eight stages. This means that Falcon 9's first stage rocket will becoming down faster with less fuel to slow its descent. The company is planning to lease and possibly build additional facilities for rocket refurbishing that could dive that cost down even further. This is different from every Falcon 9 launch that has preceded it, because the rocket SpaceX is using has already flown once before - on April 8 past year, when it was the first of the company's rockets to nail a landing at sea on a floating drone barge repurposed as a mobile landing pad. Not if you're Elon Musk. SES-10 will eventually sit in a super high orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface, known as geostationary orbit. Here, the satellite will follow our planet's rotation, and it will hover over the same patch of the planet continuously.

A rendering of the SES-10 satellite on-screen. It was the first time SpaceX or any company landed a booster in the ocean.

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However, it helped us appreciate how hard SpaceX engineers must have worked to get it right. It's still unclear just how many times a single first stage of a Falcon 9 can be used again.

Unlike NASA, SpaceX is a privately funded company.

Fortunately, SpaceX has a volunteer for their certified pre-owned rocket in SES, a satellite company based in Luxembourg that's been campaigning to be the guinea pig for this particular mission.

"If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like aeroplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred", Musk is quoted as saying on SpaceX's website. The company has said that the turn-around time for reuse is actually closer to four months. The rocket's first stage booster already completed a static fire test on Monday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A. The launching window is scheduled to open at 6 p.m. EDT on March 30, extending for more than two hours.

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