SpaceX to make history by blasting its first recycled rocket into space

30 Mar 2017

A Falcon 9 rocket waiting to launch as part of the JCSAT-16 mission. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is embarking on a historic space mission, becoming the first agency or company to launch a recycled rocket into space.

SpaceX has been pushing hard for the introduction of a reusable rocket platform as a means of significantly cutting the cost of spaceflight. Until recently, rockets could only be used once and would burn up upon re-entry.

Despite a rather rough start, last month’s test has proven SpaceX’s rocket to be capable of firing a series of retrorockets and landing on a floating platform at sea.

Now, one of those Falcon 9 rockets will make history by being the first to have launched into space twice, as part of a mission expected to take place today (30 March) at 11pm GMT.

The rocket’s previous outing was CRS-8 – SpaceX’s eighth supply mission – used to bring precious cargo aboard the International Space Station (ISS), launched on 8 April 2016.

At that time, the rocket blasted more than 3,000kg of food and scientific equipment to the ISS, including an inflatable pod being tested as a possible expansion of the space station.

According to The Verge, the latest flight will send yet another satellite into space in the form of SES-10.

The satellite – produced by the Luxembourg-based space firm SES – will provide greater communication links to Latin America from more than 35,000km above us, in a geostationary orbit of Earth.

‘One step closer to faster, easier access to space’

Interestingly, SES said it was keen to be the first company to send cargo on a reusable rocket, due to its belief in the very concept of recycling spacecraft.

In a blog post to mark the occasion, the company said: “The implications and importance of this launch will not be lost as audiences watch the ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 propel the space industry one step closer to rapid rocket reusability – one step closer to faster, easier access to space.

“Reusable rockets will not only drive down the launch cost, they will also allow a higher launch frequency, which will definitely bring a new agility and competitive edge to the satellite industry.”

As for how many times the original CRS-8 rocket is likely to be blasted off into space, previous SpaceX estimates suggest the main body of the spacecraft could be used between 10 and 20 times.

However, other components of the rocket could be reusable for far longer, with a potential lifespan of 100 missions.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic