SpaceX poised for historic launch of “used” booster

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, or used, first stage. The historic 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.

“We’re here at the edge of quite a significant bit of history,” said Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer with satellite operator SES. “We were the first commercial mission to fly on SpaceX, and now we’re here to be the first ever mission to fly on a pre-flown booster. This is obviously hugely exciting for SES, SpaceX and the industry in general.”

Liftoff from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center is targeted for 6:27 p.m. EDT (GMT-5), the opening of a two-and-a-half hour window. Forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather.

The goal of the flight is to boost the SES 10 relay station into orbit, a powerful communications satellite that will replace two older SES spacecraft now providing direct-to-home television, data and maritime services to Latin America, from Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to the tip of Argentina.

But the launch is especially noteworthy because the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster first flew one year ago, on April 8, 2016, helping launch a space station-bound Dragon cargo ship. The first stage then carried out SpaceX’s first successful off-shore landing, was hauled back to Florida and subjected to extensive inspections and refurbishment.

New Falcon 9 rockets are advertised at $60 million each. Last August, Halliwell said, SpaceX offered SES a discount for launching the SES 10 satellite on a rocket with a previously flown first stage.

“This was obviously a big step for us, a big step for the industry, a big step for everybody, something that had never, ever been done before,” he told reporters…

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