SpaceX Successfully Launches, Lands Second Reused Rocket

SpaceX has made a name for itself with its reusable rockets, but the company has only begun putting those rockets back in space for a second time relatively recently. Earlier this week, SpaceX delayed launching its first Bulgarian payload, BulgariaSat-1. Today, the rocket launched and reached orbit without incident.

It was a significant launch for both companies. For SpaceX, this is the second demonstration of its reusable rocket capabilities. For Bulgaria, it’s the first satellite the country has ever launched. BulgariaSat-1 is based on the SSL 1300 satellite platform and will be used to provide HD TV and other fixed-position satellite services. Power is provided via six solar panels, and BulgariaSat-1 is the first satellite to ever sit in geostationary orbit above the country as well. The satellite is expected to remain in operation for 15 years or more.

SpaceX has been live-tweeting the launch and reports that everything has gone well to date. The satellite has been boosted into the proper orbit and is preparing to deploy. Elon Musk reports that the returning rocket was “extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good.” The crush core, again according to Musk, is “an aluminum honeycomb cartridge, so only a couple of hours to replace.”

Multiple people have asked if Musk thinks the rocket will be returned to service for a third time, but he’s declined to answer the question as of this writing. Even if this specific rocket can’t be returned to service, however, the reusable rocket concept has the potential to drastically cut the cost of satellite launches. Just two or three launches from the same vehicle before retiring it for good would be a major improvement over the previous single-use systems. Evidence has also emerged in the last few weeks that SpaceX heavily undercuts the United Launch Alliance in overall pricing, though this was generally suspected given public information and known cost structures.

Proving SpaceX can deliver multiple launches from the same vehicle is also critical for the company, which took a bit of a reputation whack after some high-profile vehicle losses in the past 24 months. The company conducted a full review of its procedures as a result of these issues and believes it has resolved the problems. Overall, SpaceX has pushed the envelope in reusable rockets much more quickly than many people (including this author) thought was possible. Kudos to Musk and SpaceX for another successful launch and recovery, even if the landing was a bit rough.

Today’s launch is the first in a double-header planned for this weekend. On Sunday, SpaceX will use a new Falcon 9 rocket to launch a set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellite telephone stations.

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