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SpaceX Notches Record 10th Launch of a Reused Rocket

By Rich Smith - May 10, 2021 at 11:46AM

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This is a much bigger deal than Dogecoin.

Elon Musk has done it again (and no, I'm not talking about his Saturday Night Live appearance).

Very early Sunday morning (in fact, less than two hours after Musk left the stage on SNL), a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched out of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on a mission to deliver another 60 Starlink broadband internet satellites into orbit. The launch was SpaceX's 14th launch this year, and the ninth relaunch of this particular rocket -- its 10th round trip from Earth to space and back again.  

Technically, of course, it wasn't the entire rocket that launched and landed. SpaceX currently only reuses the first stage of its rockets, and the occasional space capsule, having abandoned its efforts to catch payload fairings as they fall. Technically, you can even argue about whether that first stage even goes into space, as main engine cutoff on a Falcon 9 launch occurs about 10 miles below the Karman line, considered the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

But quibbles aside, SpaceX is currently the only space company on Earth regularly launching space rockets and landing even part of them back here. And that's a big deal for SpaceX and its customers.

Time lapse photo showing rocket launching and landing trails forming an X

Time-lapse photography shows the launching and landing trajectories of a SpaceX rocket. Image source: SpaceX.

Launching and reusing a single rocket stage six times is about half as expensive per launch as building, launching, and not recovering six brand-new rockets. The more times SpaceX is able to reuse a rocket stage, the cheaper each subsequent launch gets. And according to Musk, "there isn't an obvious limit" on how many times it will be able to reuse any given Falcon 9 first stage. Even "100+ flights are possible," says the SpaceX CEO, with periodic maintenance and replacement of worn-out parts. 

Just like its rockets, SpaceX's costs are coming down to earth.

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