This week SpaceX broke a new record in the emerging field of rocket renewability when its Falcon 9 rocket completed the SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission. The booster seen in the video above — dubbed B1046 — is the first Falcon 9 first-stage to be launched and landed on three separate occasions.
Elon Musk’s aerospace company usually shares footage from all of the rocket launches and recoveries, but this one is special. One of SpaceX’s primary goals is rocket reusability, which it says is key to lowering the price point on space travel and creating a viable path toward making humans a multi-planet species.
“Every flight and reflight allows us to validate the rocket’s performance against predictions and maximize reliability on future flights,” wrote the company. “Rapid rocket reusability is key to reducing costs and enabling large groups of people to travel to space and ultimately live on other planets.”
The B1046 booster is also the first launch vehicle to take off from all three of SpaceX’s launch pads.
On May 11 it sent the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Florida. This was followed by an August 7 launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40. Finally, Monday’s launch was completed from Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Musk has previously stated that recovering Falcon 9’s first stage saves SpaceX roughly $60 million per launch. Now, that the company has mastered landing the rocket on droneships it’s aiming to begin recovering and reusing its payload fairings.
SpaceX attempted to catch Falcon 9’s nose cone using a giant net on the back of a retrofitted cargo ship its calls Mr. Steven. The vessel just barely missed, but Musk took to Twitter to state that the fairings were still salvageable. He previously told his employees that catching these fairings can save the company $6 million per launch.
With a few minor tweaks, SpaceX could make Falcon 9 even more affordable to launch that it already is.