SpaceX successfully landed its first recycled rocket on Thursday, a key component of its extraterrestrial ambitions.
The breakthrough follows roughly two years of setbacks and failures, explosions and scrubbed launches, in its quest to build a cheaper, reusable rocket which could make human access to space more commonplace and productive.
Elon Musk, the inventor and entrepreneur who founded SpaceX, publicly cheered the success.
“Incredibly proud of the SpaceX team for achieving this milestone in space!” Musk tweeted. “Next goal is reflight within 24 hours.”
The Falcon 9 rocket took off from the Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday. It reached orbit, and deployed a commercial communications satellite roughly 32 minutes later. The first stage of the rocket, meanwhile, descended back to Earth and successfully landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean called “Of Course I Still Love You.”
That first stage had been used before on a mission last year.
“The SES-10 mission will mark a historic milestone on the road to full and rapid reusability as the world’s first reflight of an orbital class rocket,” the company stated in a briefing package. “Falcon 9’s first stage for the SES-10 mission previously supported the successful CRS-8 mission in April 2016.”
SpaceX’s setbacks were well-documented. One Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff in June 2015, while carrying supplies to the International Space Station. A snapped strut was to blame – but the company spent months correcting the problem, before reemerging in December of that year. But another launch in February 2016 was aborted in the final seconds before lift off, due to rising oxygen levels and a low-thrust alarm.
Last June Musk said his goal was to have manned missions to Mars within eight years.
Musk seems to be more sanguine about humanity’s Mars destiny than many of his peers. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon billionaire, told a conference last year that space is ripe for industrial development, particularly because of round-the-clock solar potential.
Musk and Bezos are essentially competitors in terms of rocket building: Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’s Blue Origin appear to be vying for the same reusable-rocket market in the burgeoning space industry.
Musk also told the Associated Press that the recycled rocket breakthrough was the culmination of 15 years of development – and some $1 billion in investment for the company.