SpaceX nails launch & landing of a used rocket for second time


The Space Exploration Technologies booster blasted off at 1:25 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base, rising above a band of marine layer blanketing the pad.

The first launch, from Florida, featured a reused Falcon 9 booster and delivered a Bulgarian communications satellite into orbit.

BulgariaSat-1, which was built by the California company SSL, is the first Bulgarian-owned communications satellite.

Friday's launch will mark only the second time SpaceX has attempted to put a used, first-stage rocket booster back into space. Musk posted footage of Falcon 9's descent to Instagram.

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The rocket's first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in January of this year. Certain parts of rockets, like solid fuel boosters and capsules, have been recovered, but to relaunch an entire rocket was unthinkable only a few years ago.

The new launch date sets up what SpaceX is calling a "weekend doubleheader".

The two hour launch window opens at 2:10 p.m. Friday.

This is the second launch in SpaceX's campaign to put 75 Iridium NEXT spacecraft into a constellation that's created to provide global high-speed satellite data transmission as well as aircraft tracking and surveillance.

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A SpaceX official called it the "most challenging landing to date". The only exception was June 2016's launch of the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A satellites, where one of the three engines used for the landing burn did not generate sufficient thrust.

Iridium plans to launch 75 new satellites for its mobile voice and data communications system by mid-2018.

The private space company, whose ultimate goal is to get more people in space (and one day send a million of us to Mars), needed to show it could handle the pressure of frequent launches. Friday's launch by SpaceX was also important for yet another reason. The first stage then landed on the drone ship "Just Read the Instructions" in the Pacific ocean.

All Iridium NEXT satellites will be launched on new Falcon 9 rockets - at least for now.

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