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SpaceX is gearing up to launch a used Falcon 9 rocket booster for a third time


Reusing its rockets is one of the key ways that Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX wants to make space travel simpler and more affordable. With that goal in mind, it has just announced its intentions to fly one of its first stage rocket boosters for a third time — something that has never before been done.

Even though it has reused its Falcon 9 rocket a total of 16 times, until now it hasn’t flown a single first stage more than two times. That could seemingly change as soon as next month, when Falcon 9 will be used for the SSO-A launch, carrying 70 small government and commercial satellites into polar orbit. Providing everything goes as planned, this launch should take place on November 19 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Lompoc, California.

While it’s not yet been officially confirmed by SpaceX, what would make this possible is the newer version of its Falcon 9 rocket, referred to as “Block 5.” Block 5 was first flown in May this year. It is the most advanced iteration of the rocket and thought to be SpaceX’s final version, with the reusable booster helping cut down on costs as well as shorten the length of time required between launches.

According to the website NASA Spaceflight, there are two possible Block 5 boosters which could qualify for being used in the mission, since these are the only two that have already flown twice. So far, the Block 5 booster has been a big success. After being launched in May, it flew again in under three months. It also returned in better than condition than expected. If SpaceX is indeed able to fly it three times within six months it would be an extremely promising step forward for the future of affordable commercial space travel.

“We’ve launched Falcon 9 over 60 times,” SpaceX’s Lars Hoffman, senior director of government sales for the company, said this week. “We’ve landed our first stage booster 30 times now. And relaunched 16 times. We’re about to relaunch a booster for the third time. High-reliability, higher-performance, lower-cost access to space; that opens it up to everybody.”

Oh, SpaceX: When will you stop dazzling us with your innovation? We hope that the answer is a resounding “never!”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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