Elon Musk’s SpaceX just had its Wright Brothers moment

Tesla billionaire founder Elon Musk’s private space company Space Exploration Technologies flew and landed the same orbital rocket a second time in less than a year, a significant milestone in Musk’s mission to make space travel cheaper.
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A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a customer’s communications satellite rumbled aloft on Thursday from a NASA space centre in Florida, a livestream of the mission on SpaceX’s website showed. The spacecraft carried a communications satellite from Luxembourg’s SES that will provide coverage to Latin America.

Phil Larson, a space policy adviser to former US President Barack Obama who worked for SpaceX and is now at the University of Colorado, has called the mission a “Wright Brothers moment for space.”

Much of the expense of space travel lies in building engines, capsules and other equipment only to be used once and then discarded. Billionaires including Musk and Amazon苏州夜总会招聘 founder Jeff Bezos are racing to make rocket reusability – once derided as a crazy idea – into a reality that will dramatically lower costs.

SpaceX has built the Falcon 9 as well as the rocket’s Merlin engines in-house, taking a Silicon Valley approach to constant improvements and a tight collaboration between design and manufacturing.

The rocket SpaceX was attempting to re-fly on Thursday first took off and landed successfully on an unmanned drone ship bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean in April 2016. The company has recovered eight rockets in total, three by land and five by sea.

Recovering and refurbishing the used rocket booster that flew on Thursday took SpaceX roughly four months, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said earlier this month. Eventually, that turnaround time will drop to a single day as the company aims to refly rockets much in the way airplanes operate today.

“I think Elon’s given us 24 hours, maybe, to get done what we need to get done,” said Shotwell. “That vehicle needs to be designed to be reflown right away.”

SpaceX has successfully launched four rockets this year and aims to fly 20 to 24 missions in 2017. The California-based company has contracts with the NASA valued at $US4.2 billion ($5.5 billion) to resupply the International Space Station using its unmanned Dragon spacecraft and later ferry astronauts there with a version capable of carrying crews.

Musk announced last month that SpaceX plans to send two private citizens who paid “significant deposits” on a week-long flight circling the moon late next year. The chief executive officer of electric car and batteries maker Tesla founded SpaceX 15 years ago with the goal of one day creating a human colony on Mars.

The cost of a Falcon 9 launch is roughly $US62 million, according to SpaceX’s website, with modest discounts available for contractually committed, multi-launch purchases. SES, which has flown with SpaceX twice before, was the first commercial satellite operator to launch with the company back in 2013.

The reused rocket was first flown on April 8 with the CRS-8 mission, a cargo resupply mission to the space station.

SES, as SpaceX’s first commercial customer, now expects its own piece of space flight history as a memento.

“Gwynne has promised us parts of the rocket,” said SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell. “We want them for the SES board room.”