SpaceX is set to usher in a new era in space later this year when it launches the first rocket to ever make the trip beyond Earth's gravity well twice. The first "flight-proven" rocket to return to space will be a Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster carrying the SES-10 commercial communications satellite.
The rocket that will launch SES-10 will be the same one that also launched the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station in April, returning to Earth a few minutes later and landing on a barge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
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The company's plan to relaunch rockets that have already delivered payloads to space is a big part of its goal of "rapid reusability," which SpaceX hopes will drive down the cost of accessing space. Typically, most rocket boosters to date have only been good for one use, with the remains usually winding up at the bottom of the ocean.
Over the past year, SpaceX has managed to recover a handful of its rockets following their initial missions to space by successfully landing them either at Cape Canaveral or on autonomous barge landing pads in the middle of the ocean. The first few attempted barge landings ended in spectacular explosions before SpaceX finally began to nail most of the descents.
"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 Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer for SES.
SES-10 will provide broadcasting and data services to Latin America. No specific date is set for launch, but it is expected to be in the fourth quarter of this year.