Elon Musk is about to try something he’s dreamed about for more than 15 years: fuel up a used rocket booster, fire it off, then recover it for yet another launch.
SpaceX, Musk’s rocket company, has scheduled the potentially historic launch for Thursday, March 30.
If you want to see it go off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX is hosting a YouTube webcast that you can watch live below.
Tune in around 6pm EDT (10.30am AEDT): While the SES-10 mission should go off at 6:27pm, SpaceX often begins its live broadcasts shortly before launch.
Serious rocketry nerds can also watch a second, commentary-free technical broadcast here.
Why this SpaceX launch is so important
The main mission of this launch is to get a satellite called SES-10 into orbit more than 22,000 miles above Earth. From there, it will blanket much of Central America and South America with internet and television coverage.
But the bigger story is the lower half, or first-stage booster, of the 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket that the satellite will ride into space.
Boosters ordinarily cost tens of millions of dollars to build, yet always burn up, sink into the ocean, or crash into the ground after helping to deliver a payload into orbit.
Not so for the bottom halves of most 70-meter-tall Falcon 9 rockets. Those boosters, which comprise most of the expense of a rocket, can touch down on land or on a ship at sea. However, SpaceX has not yet re-launched one to prove that its scheme works.
If Thursday’s launch is successful, John Logsdon, a space policy expert and historian at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, told Business Insider it could be a “potentially revolutionary” moment, since reusing boosters could reduce the steep cost of getting to space.
“Reusability has been the Holy Grail in access to space for a long, long time,” Logsdon said.
The booster for the SES-10 mission first fired off on April 8, 2016. It helped deliver an inflatable room to the space station, screamed back to Earth, righted itself, and self-landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
John Taylor, SpaceX’s director of communications, wrote in an email to Business Insider that the company is hoping for a repeat performance by landing the booster once again following launch.
Reusing a rocket booster could save customers about 30% on a $US62-million Falcon 9 rocket launch, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s COO, has said. The Falcon 9 is already the most affordable orbit-capable rocket system in the world, but such a discount would save companies more than $US18 million per launch.
Marcus Payer, the global communications director for SES (the telecommunications company behind the new satellite) said the deal with SpaceX was solidified in August 2016, with a planned launch for later that year. But SpaceX’s uncrewed rocket explosion on September 1 and the months-long accident investigation that followed delayed the flight.
“Wherever we can change the industry equation, we will do it. We were waving our hands to be the first,” Payer told Business Insider. “We are not risk-averse, otherwise we would not be launching satellites.”
If you have time to kill until the livestream begins, we suggest trying landing a Falcon 9 booster yourself in this simple-yet-maddening video game.
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