SpaceX will try to make history on March 30, when a Falcon 9 rocket will be re-launched to space thanks to a used first-stage booster. This first-stage booster is the lower half of a 229-foot-tall (70-meter tall) Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX already launched on April 8, 2016.

This piece helped deliver a satellite into orbit, returned to Earth, and self-landed on a drone ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The actions were most unusual, as nearly all rocket parts fall into the ocean after launching, they sink and are never recovered or seen again.

A Falcon 9 rocket will be re-launched to space. Image credit: Mid Day Daily
A Falcon 9 rocket will be re-launched to space. Image credit: Mid Day Daily

A booster, which is usually the most expensive part of a two-stage rocket, can cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Business Insider.

SpaceX’s boosting system could save customers $19 million

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX CEO said that reusing boosters could give its customers a 30 percent discount on a Falcon 9 rocket launch, which currently costs up to $62 million. SpaceX’s customers have purchased the rocket services before launching satellites and supplies for space stations.

“This is potentially revolutionary,” said John Logsdon, a space policy expert, and historian at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. “Reusability has been the Holy Grail in access to space for a long, long time,” said the expert to Business Insider.

Logsdon speaks about potential because SpaceX has yet to prove that the Falcon 9 rocket can be re-launched and re-landed. Demonstration flights are crucial to ensure that the rocket systems work, but they are also dangerous considering that the tests may go wrong. Most flight displays launch without any valuable payloads so that in the event of failure, the company doesn’t lose more money.

Reusing boosters could give SpaceX' customers a 30 percent discount on a Falcon 9 rocket launch. Image credit: NeoGAF
Reusing boosters could give SpaceX’ customers a 30 percent discount on a Falcon 9 rocket launch. Image credit: NeoGAF

However, SpaceX’s launch this Thursday will be the exception. Luxembourg-based telecommunications company and an assiduous customer asked SpaceX to deliver precious cargo in the demonstration flight. The rocket will carry a satellite called SES-10, which is designed to provide television coverage for some parts of Central and South America.

SpaceX’s plan is to launch the used booster attached to the rocket dozens of miles above the planet, and then the booster will separate from the rocket. The upper-stage rocket will fire SES-10 and take the satellite into an orbit 22,200 miles (35,700 kilometers) above Earth. Then, the booster will fall towards the ocean and land on a designated ship.

The global communications director for SES, Marcus Payer, explained that the deal was settled in August 2016, and the launch was planned for later that year. However, a rocket explosion on September 1 delayed the preparations.

“Wherever we can change the industry equation, we will do it,” said Payer to Business Insider. “We were waving our hands to be the first. We are not risk-averse, otherwise we would not be launching satellites.” Payer was also questioned about the rocket explosion last September. “We are not new to this business. These things happen. (The explosion) has not, at all, rattled our confidence in what SpaceX is doing.”

SES did not disclose the price they paid for the launch to Business Insider, and they cited contractual issues and competition within the industry.

Logsdon believes that SES must have received the 30 percent discount, or maybe SpaceX didn’t charge them at all since it is a demonstrations flight. He believes that SES is getting a low-cost ride, although there are no reasons to assume that the flight may not work.

Reusable rocket systems

SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 rockets to be reusable, and most of the money spent on the multimillion rockets goes to the first-stage booster. SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk noted that refueling the rocket with liquid RP-1 (a form on kerosene) and liquid oxygen costs around $200,000.

Logsdon explained to Business Insider that the first-stage booster is not a strap-on accessory. That first stage possess nine rocket engines, while the second stage has only one engine.

SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 rockets to be reusable. Image credit: Reddit
SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 rockets to be reusable. Image credit: Reddit

Engineers have attempted to build reusable launching systems for years, but no one has come closer than SpaceX to achieving it. Logsdon explained that at the inception of the space shuttle, the reusable function was thought from the beginning. However, engineers found that this was harder than they expected.

SpaceX is also working on a much larger launch system dubbed Falcon Heavy. The system is being designed to use three boosters, and it will further reduce launch costs.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is also interested in reusable rockets, and engineers from his company Blue Origin are attempting to design them. Blue Origin was the first company to launch, land, and reuse a liquid-fueled rocket, named the New Shepard. However, Musk has pointed that Blue Origin’s New Shepard system is designed for a suborbital tourist rocket and SpaceX’s rockets are designed to pull heavy satellites into orbit, which requires 1,000 times more energy.

Blue Origin is working on the New Glenn rocket, a large launch system that has already signed its first customer, Eutelsat Communications SA.

Source: Business Insider