SpaceX successfully relaunched a rocket recovered at sea from its maiden flight last year and capped the feat with another return landing on an ocean platform.
The unprecedented twin achievements of relaunching a used Falcon 9 rocket and salvaging the vehicle yet again were hailed by billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk as a revolutionary step in his quest to slash launch costs and shorten intervals between space shots, Reuters reports.
“This is a huge day,” Musk told reporters after the launch on Thursday. “My mind’s blown.”
It took California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. 15 years to demonstrate that a rocket typically discarded in the ocean after a single flight could be recovered and reused.
The SpaceX chief executive said his next goal is to turn the orbital-class booster around for relaunch in 24 hours, a milestone he said could be accomplished before the end of the year.
“The potential is there for [an] over 100-fold reduction in the cost of access to space,” he said.
“If we can achieve that, it means humanity can become a space-faring civilization and be out there among the stars. This is what we want for the future.”
The Falcon 9 booster, which previously flew in April 2016, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 6:27 p.m. EDT (6:27 a.m. Friday in Hong Kong) to put a communications satellite into orbit for Luxembourg-based SES SA.
The booster’s main section then separated from the rest of the rocket and flew itself back to a landing pad in the Atlantic, where it successfully touched down for its second at-sea return.
“We made a little bit of history today … opened the door into a whole new era of spaceflight,” said Martin Halliwell, the chief technology officer for SES who joined Musk at the news conference.
SpaceX landed an orbital rocket after launch for the first time in December 2015, a feat it has now repeated eight times.
The Falcon 9 booster launched for the company’s 33rd mission on Thursday was also the first to make a successful return landing in the ocean.
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