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SpaceX set to actually reuse one of its reusable rockets

by Ryan Whitwam

It took a lot of clever engineering behind the scenes and some very public failures, but SpaceX has finally worked out the kinks of landing its Falcon 9 rockets after launch. It’s been recovering rockets so frequently that we don’t even cover all the landings anymore, but until now all those rockets have been sitting in a hangar someplace. SpaceX is finally set to reuse one of its reusable rockets.

SpaceX has recovered eight rockets in total — three of them on land and five at sea. The first rocket ever landed by SpaceX will never fly again. It’s on display at the company’s California headquarters. The rocket prepped for flight is the second one recovered (the first came down on land, which is far easier).

A rocket set to launch next week from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida was flown by SpaceX last year (that’s it above). This is actually a rather famous rocket for SpaceX. It was used in April 2016 to complete its first resupply mission of the International Space Station (including delivery of the Bigelow expandable habitat). Not only that, it was the very first rocket that was successfully landed on the drone ship. There were a few spectacular crashes in previous ocean landing attempts.

Reusing the first stage of a launch vehicle has the potential to save a huge amount of money. Right now, most rockets simply drop the first stage in the ocean as the payload makes its way into space. That means you have to build a new one for every single launch. By recovering the first stage, SpaceX thinks it can shave 30% off the cost of its launches. Of course, it hasn’t saved anything yet. So far it’s just collecting a bunch of used rockets. Successfully refurbishing this one and sending it on a second mission will be the true test.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

A successful launch would be great, but SpaceX isn’t stopping there. It also plans to attempt a second recovery of this rocket. Who knows if it would use this hardware a third time, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be done.

This launch is important because of what it represents, but the cargo is sort of interesting too. The Falcon 9 will carry a communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES SA. That was SpaceX’s first commercial customer. It’s awfully nice of them to risk their new satellite on SpaceX’s first-ever used rocket launch. If the rocket lands successfully, SpaceX has promised to give SES SA a small piece of it as a memento.

Originally published at www.extremetech.com on March 24, 2017.



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