A reused Falcon 9 rocket seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Image from video
A reused Falcon 9 rocket seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Image from video

In a flight that could revolutionize the future of space missions, Hawthorne-based SpaceX successfully launched a communications satellite into orbit Thursday using a rocket that was previously sent into space and recovered intact instead of being allowed to burn up or crash into the ocean.

The launch of the SES-10 global communications satellite marked the first time an orbital class rocket had ever been re-used for space flight — an advancement with the potential to save millions of dollars on future cargo and manned missions.

After the recycled Falcon 9 rocket propelled the satellite into orbit, it was again flown back to Earth and successfully landed upright on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean, so it could potentially be used again and again.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk called it “an amazing day” for space and the space industry.

“It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit-class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket,” Musk said shortly after the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket landed. “This is going to be … a huge revolution in space flight. It’s the difference between — if you had airplanes where you threw away an airplane after every flight versus you could  reuse them multiple times. 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.

I’m just incredibly proud of the SpaceX team to be able to achieve this incredible milestone in the history of space,” he said. “I’m sort of at a loss for words. It’s really a great day not just for SpaceX but the space industry as a whole, and proving that something can be done that many said was impossible.”

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the SES-10 satellite lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:27 p.m. California time. The first stage of the rocket was previously used in April 2016, launching a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying supplies to the International Space Station. After that flight, the rocket’s first stage was successfully piloted back to SpaceX’s floating barge, whimsically named “Of Course I Still Love You.”

SpaceX had made multiple efforts to successfully recover the booster rocket, but had multiple failures. That changed in December 2015, when the aerospace company maneuvered the rocket back to Earth and landed it upright on a landing pad in Florida.

The company later perfected the recovery process, successfully landing multiple rockets on the barge at sea.

The SES satellite launched Thursday is expected to boost communications capacity across Latin America, “ranging from the Gulf of California in Mexico to Cape Horn in Chile,” according to SpaceX.

— City News Service

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