SpaceX chief Elon Musk hailed a "revolution in spaceflight" on Thursday after blasting off a recycled rocket for the first time, a feat that could dramatically lower the cost of space travel.
Over the past few years, Musk and his team have proved on numerous occasions that it's possible to launch a rocket and land it back on Earth for potential use again. The rocket's mission was to send a large number of communications satellites into the orbit and then to safely land on a specially designed SpaceX landing drone that was placed in the Atlantic Ocean.
It took Space Exploration Technologies Corp, as the California-based company is formally known, 15 years to demonstrate that a rocket typically discarded in the ocean after a single flight could be recovered and reused.
The main segment of its Falcon 9 rocket was previously used on a mission in 2016. Just like some of its previous launches, the used rocket successfully landed back on Earth.
"It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster which is the most expensive part of the rocket", he added.
Today's launch was SpaceX's third from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, which hosted most of the Apollo moon mission and space shuttle liftoffs. While the company's New Shepherd rockets are capable of traveling beyond 100 km altitude commonly accepted as the edge of space, they are not capable of achieving orbit or inserting a payload into orbit.
In November 2016, SpaceX filed a proposal with the FCC describing the company's plan of a space internet with 4,425 satellites in non-geostationary orbit traveling 1,110 km to 1,325 km above the Earth's surface, with at least one satellite a minimum of 40 degrees above the horizon, covering almost every place on the planet. The company has been trying to make reusable rockets since 2011 and it has finally managed to achieve its goal. The booster segments were mixed and matched for each flight. A SES spacecraft was on board for SpaceX's first commercial satellite launch in 2013.
SES-10 will launch a commercial communications satellite into Geostationary Transfer Orbit for the satellite operator SES. "It's a bit sooty", he said with a smile.
SpaceX which aims to launch up to six reused boosters this year, two of them with the yet-to-fly, super-sized Falcon Heavy in late summer is familiar with uncharted territory.
The booster for Thursday's flight had been part of the rocket that carried cargo supplies to the International Space Station for NASA in April. Eventually, this might lead the way to a colony on Mars. Musk notes that propellant for the rocket is only about 0.3 percent of the cost. Below is the SpaceX webcast allowing you to watch the launch live.