SpaceX to launch a 'used rocket' for the first time

Space X Falcon 9 lift
NASA TV/IDGNS

We travel in used cars and used airplanes, so why not used rockets?

Even though no people are going be in it, SpaceX, for the first time, is about to launch a rocket that has been used on a previous flight. But how did it accomplish this, and what is the company's eventually goal for reusing rockets?

In IT Blogwatch, we are ready for blast off.

So what is going on? William Harwood has the background:

SpaceX is readying a Falcon 9 rocket for launch Thursday to boost an SES communications satellite into orbit, the first flight of a booster built with a previously flown...first stage. The...flight is a major step in SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s drive to lower launch costs by recovering, refurbishing and relaunching rocket stages that otherwise would be discarded after a single flight.

This has been the plan all along, right? Kerry Sheridan is in the know:

SpaceX...has for years been honing the technology of powering its boosters back to careful Earth landings on solid ground and in the water...it has successfully landed eight -- five on so-called "drone ships" floating in the ocean, and three on land.
...
The goal...is to make rocket parts just as reusable as cars, planes or bicycles...millions of dollars worth of rocket parts are jettisoned after each launch...reusing hardware could slash costs -- with each Falcon 9 launch costing over $61 million -- by about 30 percent.

So are they reusing the entire thing? No, but it is still significant. Jay Bennett has the details:

The rocket that will fly for the second time is the first one SpaceX landed on a drone ship...On April 8, 2016...after flying more than 4,000 mph and descending from about 460,000 feet, the first stage of the Falcon 9 used small thrusters to align itself for landing and then fired its main engines to decelerate as it reentered the atmosphere.
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Not the entire rocket...gets reused, but the most expensive components, including the engines and the fuel tanks, are preserved in a successful first stage landing.

And is this launch costing less? Yes, but how much less is still unknown. Brittany A. Roston explains:

SES...revealed that SpaceX gave the company an unspecified discount for the apparent risk it is taking by letting its satellite be sent off on the reused rocket. That’s not SES’s primary interest in the launch, however; the company has worked with SpaceX before, including being the first entity to utilize a Falcon 9 rocket going into geostationary transfer orbit.

Relaunching a rocket is a pretty big deal. How did SpaceX go about getting it ready? Jonathan Amos shares that info:

The Falcon...[underwent] several months of detailed inspection...after which the stage was declared fit to go again...SES...had two individuals embedded at SpaceX to oversee the booster's evaluation. This work has satisfied the Luxembourg operator that [the] mission carries no additional risk.
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SpaceX will...seek to land Thursday's first-stage booster on a floating platform in the Atlantic. This will give the company's engineers further data on the durability of the Falcon's components and sub-systems.

And what is the end goal here? Samantha Masunaga can tell us:

Reusability is key to...Elon Musk’s...plans to colonize Mars, as well as to increase the company’s launch cadence. But to make it work...the inspection and refurbishment process will need to speed up and prove...cost-effective.
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SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to require little to no refurbishment of the first-stage rocket boosters between flights, resulting in turnover times close to those of aircraft...SpaceX is targeting an eventual turnaround time of weeks or even days for the Falcon 9.

Is that all? John Raspen thinks everyone should make one distinction:

It's not used - it's "pre-owned" :)
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