May 5, 2017
On March 30, 2017, SpaceX made history by successfully launching a rocket into orbit for the second time. Up until this point, rockets were disposable. After their initial launch, the compartments that contained the necessary fuel to propel a rocket out of the atmosphere had to be thrown away and completely rebuilt for the next mission. SpaceX has been working on developing a reusable rocket, since at least 2011, but it wasn’t until this launch that the feat was actually accomplished.
Not the Entire Rocket
It is important to note that the entire rocket isn’t actually preserved and reusable. Rather, the detachable component of the first stage of the launch can be recovered and put to future use. This first stage, a 14-story core, contains a large supply of the fuel and the engines needed to exit the planet and represents tens to hundreds of millions of dollars of aerospace equipment.
The piece of the rocket that detaches has one of two options to safely land back on Earth. Either it attempts to land on solid ground, or it can land in the ocean. In the event of an ocean landing, an autonomous drone ship aligns with the rockets trajectory, so that the rocket can land safely on the deck of the ship.
A History of the Launches
SpaceX has made 13 attempts to successfully launch a rocket and recover the core, and of these attempts eight have been successful. However, up until this point, none of these rocket cores have been reused for a second mission.
The first time the core of this Falcon 9 rocket was launched was in April 2016. The mission was a supply run to the International Space Station. The rocket carried 7,000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts in the space station including an inflatable habitat module.
For this second mission, the SpaceX rocket was merely launching a new communications satellite into space for the Luxemburg company, SES. The satellite will remain in orbit and transmit communication services to Latin America. The mission was a success, and the satellite is now in orbit.
“It’s been 15 years to get to this point, it’s taken us a long time. A lot of difficult steps along the way, but I’m just incredibly proud of the SpaceX for being able to achieve this incredible milestone in the history of space.”
— Elon Musk
CEO and Founder of SpaceX
Ready for Round Three
This accomplishment is a major breakthrough in aerospace engineering, and future missions will reap the benefits. Now, the overall cost of a space mission is significantly reduced, which will allow SpaceX to lower their prices and make space missions more accessible to their customers. Most importantly, the Falcon 9 core was once again recovered intact, and that means the rocket core is once again available for a third launch.
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