A year ago, launching an expensive satellite to orbit on a used rocket seemed like a high-risk proposition.
It had never been done before.
Now it’s almost expected as SpaceX launched 10 Iridium Communications (IRDM) satellites Friday into earth orbit from Vandenburg Air Force Base, about 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles, atop a Falcon 9 rocket that this past fall had blasted another Iridium mission into space.
The 7:15 a.m. PT Friday launch marked the 10th time SpaceX has re-launched a Falcon rocket, exactly one year after a historic first launch of what the company called a “flight proven” used booster. An 11th re-flight could follow at 4:30 p.m. ET Monday from here in Florida with a launch of International Space Station supplies for NASA.
“I don’t want to get complacent, but I think we understand reusable boosters,” Chief Executive Elon Musk said last month after two recycled boosters assisted the successful debut of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
Buy-in from customers has come surprisingly quickly.
“A reusable rocket seemed impossible,” Iridium CEO Matt Desch said. “Now it seems commonplace.”
On Friday, the company intends to retrieve part of its payload fairing but won’t look for the first-stage booster, according to the blog Spaceflight Now.
What has come less quickly is long-promised savings on launches. But now is still early in an experiment to make rocket flight more like air travel, opening doors to new endeavors in space and ultimately enabling Musk’s dream of colonizing Mars.
“The big surprise to me is how seamlessly customers have accepted this concept of a reused rocket,” said Chris Quilty, president of Quilty Analytics in St. Petersburg, Fla. “What hasn’t happened, maybe to the disappointment of a lot of SpaceX fans, is that they haven’t driven down pricing dramatically.”
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SOURCE: USA Today; Florida Today, James Dean