04 April, 2017
Still basking in the glow of the successful launch of his first reusable rocket, Elon Musk has been sharing a few details about the demonstration flight of the company's Falcon Heavy rocket, likely coming later this year.
Previously, the first stage of the rocket for the SES-10 mission flew in a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station cargo for the the USA space agency NASA in April 2016. SpaceX began flying back the Falcon's first-stage, kerosene-fueled boosters in 2015; it's since landed eight boosters, three at Cape Canaveral and five on ocean platforms actually, six times at sea counting Thursday's redo. Reusing the first stage booster saves about $46.5 million. SpaceX defied conventional wisdom that landing of rocket through propulsion will be technically ridden with challenges and will turn out to be so expensive that it the whole idea will work against the costs involved. "It's the difference between if you had airplanes where you threw away an airplane after every flight versus you could reuse them multiple times". Currently, millions of dollars' worth of rocket parts are jettisoned after each launch.
Musk spoke at a press conference after the launch on Thursday in Florida, and said the ideal turnaround for Falcon 9 rocket reuse would be 24 hours, according to Florida Today. Many more landed boosters will be used during future missions.
"That was the cherry on the cake", Musk, who serves as chief executive and lead designer of Space Exploration Technologies, told reporters after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. While this doesn't account for more than 30% of the overall cost of the rocket, getting it back as well would be a tremendous step forward for the company.
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SES confirmed that the launch had successfully deployed its satellite, and congratulated SpaceX on sticking the landing of the rocket. In September 2016, he gave a talk to the International Astronautical Congress called "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species", in which he laid out his vision. "But it will certainly be less than the current price of our rockets, obviously, and it will be far lower than any other rocket in the world", Musk claimed. This means a launch like SES-10 could cost $43 million instead of $62.
"At first it sounded easy: We'll just take two first stages and use them as strap-on boosters", Musk said.
Thursday's achievement is a huge step for SpaceX. It's not clear how the second stage, which reaches a much higher altitude than the first stage, would be returned to Earth.