The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad. Courtesy SpaceX

Hawthorne-based aerospace firm SpaceX successfully launched a commercial communications satellite into orbit Friday, and it marked the second time the company has re-used the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, continuing its pioneering effort to recycle equipment and slash costs.

The rocket carrying the BulgariaSat-1 satellite into orbit took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida shortly after noon. The first stage of the rocket was previously used during a January mission.

Minutes after Friday’s launch, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket was piloted back to Earth, and it landed successfully on a floating barge, whimsically named “Of Course I Still Love You,” in the Atlantic Ocean so it can feasibly be used again.

SpaceX has become expert at recovering the rockets. Company founder Elon Musk noted that Friday’s attempt was one of the most difficult recovery efforts, saying the returning rocket “will experience its highest ever re-entry force and heat.” He suggested on Twitter there was a good chance the rocket booster wouldn’t “make it back.”

But despite the challenges, the rocket successfully landed upright on the barge, albeit a little off-center.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard, used almost all of the emergency crush core, but otherwise good,” Musk posted following the landing.

SpaceX has recovered rockets multiple times on the barge, known as a drone ship, and on land back at Cape Canaveral. The recoveries are seen as a major cost-cutting evolution in space flight, allowing the re-use of the multimillion-dollar rockets instead of allowing them to burn up on reentry and fall into the ocean.

SpaceX previously used a recycled rocket during a March mission.

Earlier this month, the company launched a supply mission to the International Space Station using a Dragon spaceship that had previously been flown to the interstellar outpost in 2014.

The BulgariaSat-1 satellite launched Friday was built by SSL in Palo Alto and will provide communications services to Southeastern Europe.

The launch was the start of a busy weekend for SpaceX. The company on Sunday is scheduled to launch a series of communications satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base. That mission will be conducted with a previously un-used Falcon 9 rocket.

–City News Service

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