What a difference a few months make. In April, SpaceX pulled off the first landing of the first stage rocket on a drone ship. Two months and three droneship landings later, and Elon Musk is teasing the first reuse of the first stage rocket. Yesterday, he tweeted the private space company is aiming for a September/October reflight.
Fourth rocket arrives in the hangar. Aiming for first reflight in Sept/Oct. pic.twitter.com/TqW8d6Cc3U
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 7, 2016
Dang Elon, it looks like you only have room for one more rocket.
That is a small delay. SpaceX’s original plans were to send one of the rockets back up in June. But, SpaceX wants to be careful. They are riding high right now. No reason to rush a reflight only for something to go wrong.
When SpaceX is ready to send an old first-stage rocket up, they will have a customer lined up. Satellite communications giant SES has expressed interest in using a used Falcon 9 rocket to carry one of their satellites into orbit.
“I did put out as a challenge to SpaceX that we would be the first satellite operator that would use the same rocket twice to get to (geostationary) orbit,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell said earlier this year according to Spaceflight Now. “We discussed that with our investors, and they really liked that. It’s something that I would really like to do.”
Why would SES be so eager to put one of the expensive satellites on a used Falcon 9 rocket? SpaceX touts the price reduction reusable rockets will bring, and SES hopes those reductions are across the board.
A quick look at SpaceX’s website shows a standard Falcon 9 launch costs $62 million. For that, customers can take a payload of up to 5.5 metric tons to GTO (geosynchronous transfer orbit).
SpaceX hasn’t said how much it a Falcon 9 launch would cost with a reused first stage.
I believe we are still a little ways from that. SpaceX will be putting one of the rockets through rigorous testing on the ground to see how the engines hold up. How many times can you relaunch the first stage? 2? 10? 50? 200? We don’t know. But SpaceX is damn determined to find out.
Elon Musk’s company might not hit their original dates all that often. But they are a determined bunch. If they say they will send the first stage back up, then they will send it back up.
SpaceX solved the first part of reusing rockets by getting them back to the ground. Now, let’s see if they can solve the second half by getting them back into the air successfully.