SpaceX's SES-10 Rocket Launch Just Made Space Travel a Lot Less Expensive 


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Last April, SpaceX sent a cargo supply rocket to the International Space Station. After completing its mission, the rocket returned to Earth and set down on the landing platform of a drone ship named "Of Course I Love You." One of the boosters from that same rocket returned to space March 30—this time to place a commercial satellite into orbit.

Typically, rockets drop their boosters once they've spent their fuel, and the launch yesterday marks the first time a booster rocket has been reused—an achievement that could make space travel much less costly.

"It means you can fly and reply an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk following the safe landing of the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Musk offered the refurbished booster at a discount to SES, which was SpaceX's first commercial customer, and owns and operates the satellite launched into orbit yesterday. The original cost of the booster was $62 million, but the value of the discount hasn't been disclosed.

The cost of rocket fuel is less than 1 percent of the total cost of a launch, meaning if boosters can be refueled rather than discarded, the cost of launches could decrease dramatically. Musk compared discarding boosters to discarding commercial airliners after each flight.

But things may not be that simple. According to The New York Times, a similar logic prompted NASA to develop the space shuttle program in the 1970s, but the extensive refurbishments the shuttle boosters required ate into the projected savings. The comparative simplicity of SpaceX's boosters, however, may increase the speed and ease of putting boosters back into action after each flight—while decreasing cost.
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