Several years before SpaceX turned the dream of reusable rockets into a reality, one company had faith in them – SES. The pair worked together for SpaceX’s first commercial launch in 2013. And the pair will work together to make reusable rockets a reality.
Later this year, the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket will head into the skies for a second time. With it, an important step towards complete reusability.
Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES, believes as SpaceX does. “We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Halliwell.
“This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise,” Halliwell adds. “The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle give us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”
SpaceX expressed their appreciation of SES’ support. “SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX’s approach to reusability over the years and we’re delighted that the first launch of a flight-proven rocket will carry SES-10.”
Elon Musk echoed the sentiment on Twitter.
Thanks for the longstanding faith in SpaceX. We very much look forward to doing this milestone flight with you. https://t.co/U2UFez0OhY
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 30, 2016
SES-10 will be positioned in geostationary orbit. That’s an orbit that hovers above the same point all the time. A perfect orbit for weather and communication satellites.
Which SpaceX rocket will head back up?
We don’t have a concrete answer, but we can narrow it down. Six first stage Falcon 9 rockets have shot into the sky and come back down in one piece. Two on land and four at sea.
The first Falcon 9 to successfully land is now on display at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California facility.
On April 8, 2016, SpaceX finally nailed a landing on one of its floating drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the rocket that is believed to be the one SpaceX will fly again later this year.
One month later, SpaceX nailed another landing of a Falcon 9’s first stage. This landing was important because the rocket returned from a GTO mission. Placing a satellite into GTO (geostationary orbit) means more speed. More speed means less fuel on the return trip. And also more speed on the return trip. May’s launch was traveling more than 1,000 mph faster than April’s at the time of booster separation. SpaceX said rocket would be used as the life leader for ground tests since it suffered “max damage.”
Most recent rocket took max damage, due to v high entry velocity. Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 15, 2016
The April landing rocket makes the most sense. This landing didn’t take a lot of damage, and it gives SpaceX the most time to prepare the rocket for re-launch.
Check out the smooth landing from back in April.
One question we don’t have an answer to yet is what kind of savings (if any) SES will see from the upcoming launch? Earlier this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company expects a 30% cost savings on a reused Falcon 9 first stage.
We don’t know if that’s the case for the first launch, or when relaunches become routine. I imagine the rocket being used underwent absurd testing to make sure it is good to go. I’ll update this post if SES says anything about cost savings.
In the meantime, SpaceX engineers are hustling to get ready for the September 3rd launch of the Amos 6 communications satellite. If everything goes smoothly, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift the satellite into the pre-dawn skies above Cape Canaveral on Saturday morning.