SpaceX used – er, ‘flight-tested’ – rocket set to launch

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SpaceX is set to launch a recycled Falcon 9 rocket Thursday afternoon, marking the first time a rocket used once to put a spacecraft into orbit has been landed, refurbished and put on the launch pad to be used again.

SpaceX’s first customer for such a rocket, the Luxembourg-based SES satellite company, prefers the term “flight-tested” to the word used.

The Falcon 9 rocket with the SES-10 communications satellite is set to launch from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, with a launch window that opens at 6:27 p.m. and running through 8:30 p.m.

The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is calling for an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for a launch, which will go down to 40 percent, because of storm systems drifting in from Texas, if it has to be bumped until Friday. On Thursday, winds and thick layer clouds ahead of the storm system are the concerns.

“SES-10 is the first satellite to be launched aboard a flight-proven rocket, a significant milestone in the direction of shrinking the time it takes from satellite design to launch, allowing the satellite industry to be more agile to meet the insatiable demand for connectivity everywhere,” SES said in a press release. “Positioned at 67 degrees West, SES-10 will enable the delivery of new video and connectivity services across Latin America.”

SpaceX touts the launch as a breakthrough in the commercial rocket business, that can lower per-launch costs.

“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk stated on the company’s website.

Thursday’s launch will not reuse an entire rocket, just the first stage.

And technically it will not be a first. SpaceX rival Blue Origin already has reused a first stage from its New Shepard rocket, though that did not reach orbit, and did not carry a payload, as the Falcon 9 is doing.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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