SpaceX successfully launched and then retrieved its first recycled rocket Thursday, a historic feat and the biggest leap yet in its bid to drive down costs and speed up flights.
It was the first time SpaceX founder Elon Musk tried to fly a booster that soared before on an orbital mission. He was at a loss for words after the Falcon 9 core landed on the bull’s-eye of the ocean platform following liftoff with a broadcasting satellite, achieving what some had once told him was impossible.
“This is a huge day. My mind’s blown, frankly,” Musk said. He called it an “incredible milestone in the history of space” and predicted, “this is going to be a huge revolution in spaceflight.”
Musk foresees dozens if not hundreds of repeat flights for a booster and rocket turnarounds of as little as 24 hours, perhaps by next year. Land, refuel and then back up again, with everything leading to one day putting humanity “out there among the stars.”
This particular first stage landed on an ocean platform almost exactly a year ago after a space station launch for NASA. SpaceX refurbished and tested the 15-foot booster, still sporting its nine original engines. It nailed another vertical landing at sea Thursday once it was finished boosting the satellite for the SES company of Luxembourg. SpaceX employees jammed outside Mission Control at the Hawthorne, California, company headquarters cheered loudly every step of the way — and again when the satellite reached its proper orbit.
Longtime customer SES got a discount for agreeing to use a salvaged rocket, but wouldn’t say how much. It’s not just about the savings, said chief technology officer Martin Halliwell. He called it “a big step for everybody — something that’s never, ever been done before.”
“Absolutely astounding,” Halliwell said after his company’s satellite reached the proper orbit. “Just opened the door into a whole new era of spaceflight.”
SpaceX granted SES insight into the entire process of getting the booster ready to fly again, Halliwell said, providing confidence everything would go well. SES, in fact, is considering more launches later this year on reused Falcon boosters. At a news conference, Musk personally thanked Halliwell for having faith in SpaceX.
“You’ve got to get away from the idea that it’s secondhand,” Halliwell told reporters. “Flight proven,” Musk quickly added, his preferred term.