On March 30, the private spaceflight company SpaceX made history after launching a communications satellite, SES-10 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. What made this launch so special was the fact that the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, a 14 story rocket powerd by 9 Merlin engines between them generating upwards of 1.7 million pounds of thrust, had already been used.
The first stage had already delivered more than 7,000 pounds of supplies as well as an inflatable habitat module called BEAM to the International Space Station. The rocket was then recovered after it guided itself to and subsequently landed itself on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic.
Beyond the incredible feat of engineering required to land a 14-ton, 180-foot rocket on a small square in the middle of the ocean the launch serves as a proof of concept. Namely, rockets can be reused and the price of launches can be greatly reduced if the cost of constructing a spaceship is removed from the bill.
The cost of a SpaceX launch is currently about $62 million, which could be reduced by about 30 percent to $42 million versus the cost of a United Launch Alliance launch, which averages out at about $225 million. Cutting the price of a launch further opens up the market for smaller companies to have payloads launched into space, leading to many more launches for SpaceX.
In fact, SpaceX expects to launch six pre-flown Falcon 9s this year alone. The additional revenue will allow them to further fund research and develop many of their other programs, specifically the company’s efforts to colonize Mars via the use of the Falcon Heavy and Red Dragon rockets as well as the Interplanetary Colonization Ship.