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SpaceX set to prove that its rockets can be reused
December 16 2017, 10:40 | Alexander Lowe
The first stage on Thursday's launch was used last April to send supplies to the space station. If it can be used a couple of times, SpaceX can drastically bring down the price of a single launch. Spaceflight is a risky proposition. but you'd put a reused first stage through the same process you would with a new first stage. SpaceX is doing this on an orbital flight, with a paying customer.
Engineers argued that the static fire test was successful. While that's still expensive (for perspective, you could buy about 20 Veyrons with that kind of cash), a savings of $20 million per launch is kind of like getting a "Launch 2, Get 1 Free" deal. Approximately 10 minutes after every launch, the first stage separates itself from the top portion of the rocket, making a controlled dive back to our planet.
SpaceX and its commercial satellite partner, SES, are targeting 6:27 p.m. for the opening of a launch window at pad 39A that closes at 8:57 p.m. It will provide TV and other communications services to Latin America. The launch was originally planned for late 2016, but was delayed. SpaceX's latest customer is Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES. After launch it will go to a geostationary orbit. Not if you're Elon Musk.
That means the return trip is even more strenuous on the rocket. In earlier remarks, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell has said it took about four months to test and prepare for the second flight. The system is being created to use three boosters, and it will further reduce launch costs.
SpaceX attempts a reusable launch. The company's first ocean landing happened nearly exactly a year ago, and later today they will take that exact same rocket and launch it again.
Thursday's launch will not reuse an entire rocket, just the first stage. Anyway, much cheaper than sending a new rocket. Reusability promises to reduce the exorbitant costs of aerospace.
Of course, at the time, this was still revolutionary. While the refurb jobs have been strenuously tested by SpaceX, there are never any guarantees, and the company has lost even brand new rockets in launch mishaps a couple of times in the past. It's a great marriage of public and private sector, and one I hope will open up the skies to humanity.
During a press event with reporters at Port Canaveral on Tuesday, SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell said SpaceX provided SES with "tremendous transparency" into many aspects of the first stage, ranging from design to avionics to engines. I expect I'll be live-tweeting it as well.
The fuel that remains is employed in reigniting the engines on the rocket in a succession of burns, to boost the vehicle and make it safely re-enter our planet's atmosphere.