Skip to main content

SpaceX sees a payoff from its pioneering work with reusable rockets

Echostar 105 / SES-11 Launch Webcast
When some fellow called Elon Musk pondered the idea all those years ago of launching a rocket, landing it, and flying it again, some folks likely scoffed, while others perhaps choked on their coffee; a few may even have wondered if they should call a doctor.

But then Musk went and did it.

Now, Musk’s company, SpaceX, is getting rather good at reusing its rockets, scoring a third successful mission of this kind on Wednesday, October 11. Such a system aims to drastically lower the cost of space travel, allowing for more missions and, in time, more ambitious journeys into deep space.

The private space company launched a Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center at just after 6.50 p.m. ET. It marked SpaceX’s 15th launch of 2017, and its 18th landing to date, this latest one on its drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The perfect touchdown, nine minutes after it left the ground, means SpaceX can now use it for a third time once it’s been refurbished.

The rocket in Wednesday’s mission used a first stage that previously flew in February when it carried supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX achieved its first Falcon 9 reflight in March, 2017. Musk described the success as “a huge revolution in space travel,” adding, “It’s the difference between … if you threw away an airplane after every flight versus you could reuse them multiple times.” Musk said the next goal is to cut the reflight time from months to just 24 hours.

With the extraordinary landings still dazzling many of those who follow SpaceX’s trials and tribulations, it can be easy to overlook the actual purpose of these missions. This latest one, for the record, deployed a commercial communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based SES.

In a busy week for Elon Musk and his team, SpaceX launched another rocket on Monday, October 9 in a mission that took 10 communications satellites into orbit for U.S. firm Iridium.

This year’s successes certainly mark a turnaround for the company following a difficult patch in 2016 when one of its rockets suddenly exploded on the launchpad, forcing SpaceX to put its operations on hold for several months.

Its rockets returned to flight in January this year and continue to serve a range of customers for satellite deployments while also ferrying supplies to the International Space Station.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Watch the key moments from SpaceX’s spy satellite launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket heading to space.

SpaceX successfully launched a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on the morning of Sunday, April 17.

The NROL-85 mission launched from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 6:13 a.m. PT (9:13 a.m. ET).

Read more
How to watch SpaceX launch a U.S. spy satellite today
COSMO-SkyMed mission ready for launch.

SpaceX will shortly be launching a satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in a mission called NROL-85. The launch will use one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets to carry the NROL-85 spacecraft into orbit and will take place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch will be livestreamed, and we've got the details on how to watch along at home.

NROL-85 Mission

Read more
SpaceX will stop making new Crew Dragon capsules. Here’s why
SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Two years after SpaceX flew its first astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in the Crew Dragon capsule, the company has revealed it is ending production of the spacecraft.

Speaking to Reuters this week, Space X president Gwynne Shotwell said that there are currently no plans to add more Crew Dragons to its current fleet of four capsules. However, the company will carry on manufacturing components for the existing Crew Dragon spacecraft as they will continue to be used for future space missions.

Read more