Twice Flown SpaceX Booster Sails Proudly into Port Canaveral at Sunrise 3 Days After Sunset Launch and Droneship Landing: Photos

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launching SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The now twice flown SpaceX first stage booster that successfully delivered the SES-11 UHDTV satellite to orbit at sunset Wednesday, Oct 11, sailed proudly back home into Port Canaveral during a beautiful Sunday sunrise, Oct. 15 only three days after it safely landed on a tiny droneship at sea.

The booster arrival also took place just hours after a ULA Atlas launched the covert NROL-52 surveillance satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – making for a nonstop day of space action on the Florida Space Coast.

The 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 booster accomplished a precision guided rocket assisted touchdown on the football field sized OCISLY droneship platform about 8 minutes after the dinnertime liftoff with the private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 15 story tall first stage came to rest slightly tilted a few degrees, similar to at least two prior boosters that soft landed upright on OCISLY while prepositioned several hundred miles off shore of the Florida peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean.

The recycled booster was towed into Port Canaveral by a SpaceX contracted tugboat accompanied by a small fleet of pilot ships and support vessels.

The doubly used and doubly successful booster entered the mouth of Port Canaveral around 7:15 a.m. EDT Sunday under dawns delightful twilight I witnessed from Jetty Park and beach together with a few space media colleagues and a small crowd of onlookers with little fanfare.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launching SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Over the next hour it was hauled through the narrow channel as numerous vessels large and small and pleasure craft sailed by, likely wondering what they were looking it.

Finally the droneship platform was docked at SpaceX’s spot leased near the two huge shipping cranes dominating the scene across from popular portside restaurants – and also not far from humongous cruise ships dwarfing the booster in size.

The next step was for dock workers to hoist a cap and attach it to the top of the booster. This enabled it to eventually be carefully raised off the barge with a crane by about 1 p.m. and then slowly moved and swung over and affixed onto a restraining pedestal stand on land.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

By the next evening Monday night, all 4 landing legs were still intact. After they are all detached the booster will be lowered horizontally aided by the cabling attached by the workers and placed on a flab bed transporter and trucked back to the Cape.

SpaceX Falcon 9 SES11 booster standing on a pedestal at night in Port Canaveral, FL, after being craned off the OCISLY droneship upon which it soft landed after Oct. 11, 2017 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

However the impact of developing and reusing ‘used’ rockets is leading to an era when re-flown rockets are offered as a ‘routine service’ rather than the exception.

Rocket reusability is at the heart of the extraordinary vision of billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to drastically cut space launch costs and one day build a ‘City on Mars’.

And it represents a ‘major sea change getting closer’ to fruition with each passing day thanks to SpaceX, said SES CTO Martin Halliwell in an exclusive interview with Universe Today, following the stunning sunset blastoff of the SES-11 UHDTV commercial satellite on another ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster that also re-landed – thus completing another remarkable round of rocket recovery and recycling or ‘launch, land and relaunch!’

“As I’ve said before, I think in a couple years time you won’t even consider whether it’s a preflown rocket or a new rocket or a second time rocket,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told Universe Today in a one-on-one post launch interview.

“It will just be a flight and you will buy a service to get to orbit – and that will be that!”

“It’s a major sea change,” Halliwell explained. “That’s absolutely true.”

“We’re getting closer to that every day. It’s exactly where we are going. There is no doubt about it.”

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is docked near cruise ships after being towed through the channel of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15. It successfully launched SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The launch of EchoStar 105/SES-11 counts as only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched and is the third successful mission with a flight-proven orbital class rocket.

All three ‘flight-proven’ missions have lifted off from Pad 39A this year and all three have relanded.

The Falcon 9 first stage appeared to be in good shape upon its return to Port. I did not observe noticeable significant damage to the outside of the booster skin, grid fins or landing legs. Scorching seemed comparable to the first two reflown boosters.

This booster originally flew on the NASA Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station in February of this year.

On arrival it was clearly anchored to the OCISLY droneship deck with multiple chains as previously done for droneship landings as well as with what appears to be several gripper arms.

Up close look at the base of the recovered Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch with four landing legs chained to the droneship deck while sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY, which stands for “Of Course I Still Love You,” had departed Port Canaveral several days ahead of the Oct. 11 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The booster was outfitted with four grid fins and four landing legs to accomplish the pinpoint touchdown on the barge at sea.

The recovered Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch is hoisted off the OCISLY dronseship deck with a crane in this up close view pf the boosters base and placed on a platform for ground processing after sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.

The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.

NASA is also assessing whether to utilize a reflown booster on upcoming ISS resupply missions – starting with the next flight of the Dragon CRS-13 cargo ship which may liftoff as soon as early December.

Pad 39A has been repurposed by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.

Up close look at all four landing legs of the recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 from SES-11 launch as technicians guide the booster onto pedestal for ground processing after sailing through Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has accomplished 18 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Birds tip toe along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline with booster reflection in sand as recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch sails into Port Canaveral, FL atop droneship on Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster from SES-11 launch is towed into mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 past Jetty Park pier damaged by Hurricane Irma. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Musk’s Era of Routinely Re-flown Rockets (ala SpaceX) a ‘Major Sea Change Getting Closer Every Day’ Says SES CTO Halliwell: SES-11 Launch Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Elon Musk’s extraordinary vision of an era when re-flown rockets are offered as a ‘routine service’ rather than the exception is a ‘major sea change getting closer’ to fruition with each passing day thanks to SpaceX, said SES CTO Martin Halliwell in an exclusive interview with Universe Today, following the stunning sunset blastoff of the SES-11 UHDTV commercial satellite on another ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster that also re-landed – thus completing another remarkable round of rocket recovery and recycling or ‘launch, land and relaunch!’

“As I’ve said before, I think in a couple years time you won’t even consider whether it’s a preflown rocket or a new rocket or a second time rocket,” SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told Universe Today in a one-on-one post launch interview.

“It will just be a flight and you will buy a service to get to orbit – and that will be that!”

“It’s a major sea change,” Halliwell explained. “That’s absolutely true.”

“We’re getting closer to that every day. It’s exactly where we are going. There is no doubt about it.”

The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite mission soared to space with an on time liftoff of the recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage at dinnertime Wednesday Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“The launch was fantastic,” Halliwell gushed. “Everything went perfectly. The countdown went perfectly, no hiccups, no drama, nothing whatsoever. So we were good to go!”

Plus its saving SES “months of time” and thereby “tens of millions of dollars of real money” to fly with a used booster rather than having their expensive satellite sit and languish uselessly on the ground.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on 11 Oct 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

SES-11 is primarily intended to significantly upgrade SES capabilities to transmit Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV signals or 4 K vs. standard HDTV – thereby pulling in more revenue streams.

SES made rocket history jointly with SpaceX earlier this year when they became the first company ever to agree to fly a payload on a recycled liquid fueled rocket that SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk dubs ‘flight-proven’.

And Halliwell, as SES Chief Technology Officer, was instrumental in partnering with SpaceX CEO Musk to take a big leap make that happen.

The maiden ‘used’ Falcon 9 lifted off successfully with the SES-10 satellite and delivered the comsat to geostationary orbit on March 30, 2017 – in a monumental space achievement.

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket lifts off at sunset at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HDTV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“This was our second reflown mission with SpaceX for SES-11. And we had a lot of discussion about it.”

“The more that we looked at it and the transparency we’ve gotten from SpaceX, working together with them we were convinced of the ‘flight worthiness’ of the Falcon 9 vehicle,” Halliwell told me.

SpaceX successfully delivered the 5.7 ton EchoStar 105/SES-11 joint mission satellite for SES and EchoStar to geostationary transfer orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on 11 Oct 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

EchoStar 105/SES-11 is a high-powered hybrid Ku and C-band communications satellite launching as a dual-mission satellite for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based operator SES.

How exactly does Halliwell and SES assess whether its worth taking a gamble on a ‘flight-proven’ booster to ensure it meets the high standards expected and really is robust and reliable and not end in disaster? How did the booster fare after the first reflown mission for SES-10?

Halliwell explained that SES employs a team of engineers embedded with SpaceX.

“We have US citizens who work embedded with SpaceX,” Halliwell replied. “They can understand and filter and react to that data they are exposed to and see what’s going on. And then determine if we are good to go or not.”

Why did SES decide on using a pre-flown booster?

“We sat down with SpaceX to see how the launch manifest and scheduling looks and asked whats the best way we can get SES-11 to orbit? Do we wait for new equipment or does SpaceX have preflown equipment that you can make available to us after refurbishment?”

“It came out that the fastest way we can get to orbit is by using a refurbished preflown vehicle. So we said OK we will go down that path. And that’s why we are here today.”

Did it save time or money for SES to go with a used booster?

“It saved us a few months. So we concentrated on the preflown booster after making that decision. For sure if we had chosen to use a new booster our SES-11 launch would have been somewhat later compared to launching today.”

So it turns out that SES got a faster trip to orbit for SES-11 and that in turn quickly translates into real money generated instead of more money wasted with a satellite parked somewhere in a storage shed for half a year of more. The actual savings on a launch was not that big.

“The average launch delay we have right now is about 7 months,” Halliwell explained.

“So we have the spacecraft already built and its ready, and ready to ship [to the launch site]. And then – we just wait! Until we have launch vehicle availability.”

“So think about it. I spent all my money on my spacecraft and most of my money on my launch vehicle. Plus a whole chunk of insurance money is already gone.”

“So I’m sitting there for 7 months. It’s just cash out and a very expensive wait!”

How much money does waiting around on the ground with a fully ready to launch spacecraft cost?

“That works out to tens of millions of dollars lost due to delays,” he replied. “Its real money. A ton of money!”

“Revenue we are not making. And paying for the money you spent. It’s gone !”

So with SES-11 now safely in orbit it will soon be generating revenue to recoup all the investments thus far accrued.

Is the era of reliable rocket reusability coming even sooner than some had expected?

“I think so certainly for SpaceX,” Halliwell responded.

“The other companies are all now running behind. You look towards Ariane with the reusable Prometheus and being cheaper – but there is a ways to go there. You look at Blue Origin and they are making progress. But they are not there yet.”

“Will Vulcan do this? I think everybody will consider this, and try to figure out the pros and cons of this and try to figure out an industrial model and a financial model, etc, etc.”

“Whether they go down that reusability path or not depends on whether it suits their business plan.”

“SpaceX has certainly taken a very, very difficult road. But they have come through it very well.”

Is SpaceX actually saving money? The company sunk huge sums of its own money amounting into the hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the reusability technology.

The advertised cost of a SpaceX launch is about $61 million.

Elon Musk routinely promotes the reusability technology as a means to drastically reduce space launch costs.

Thus SES CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh is looking for a reduction to about half that advertised price, in the neighborhood of $30 million.

To date Musk has only offered a marginal reduction to the contact price, citing the high development costs.

Musk has even joked that he should charge more for a reliable ‘flight-proven’ booster.

Halliwell says the real benefit thus far is the earlier launch date. SpaceX has a huge backlog of over 50 contracted launches that only grew longer following a pair of rocket explosions that forced launch delays while the firm investigated root causes.

What does Halliwell think is realistic regarding pricing and achieving the $30 million target?

“I’d love to see that,” Halliwell told me. “But I don’t think we’ll see that $30 million any time soon. Maybe it will stabilize in the mid $50 millions or $60 millions somewhere. I think that’s realistic.”

“I think we have to see how people like SpaceX work on their industrial/financial model.”

“To be honest, I think SpaceX themselves is trying to figure out where the pricing should be. How much is it really costing them? How much is the refurb costing them? How much are their ops costing?”

To date SpaceX has accomplished 18 successful landings of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster by land and by sea.

The first stage stands 156 feet tall.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster leaning atop OCISLY droneship upon which it landed after 23 June launch from KSC floats into Port Canaveral, FL, on 29 June 2017, hauled by tugboat as seen from Jetty Park Pier. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this SES-11 launch video:

Video caption: Reused Falcon 9 Launches SES-11 Into Sunset (Remote Cameras). Credit: Jeff Seibert

Stay tuned. More upcoming.

Sunset blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket at 6:53 PM EDT on 11 Oct 2017 carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 HD TV commercial comsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL- as seen from the famous countdown clock. This launch counts as third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SES-11/EchoStar 105 launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 on 11 Oct 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

Worlds’ 1st Recycled Booster from SpaceX Sails Serenely at Sunrise into Port Canaveral – Photo/Video Gallery

World’s first reflown rocket booster – the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage – sails back into Port Canaveral, FL just before sunrise atop OCISLY droneship on which it landed 9 minutes after March 30, 2017 liftoff from KSC with SES-10 telecomsat – as seen entering channels mouth trailing a flock of birds from Jetty Park pier on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

PORT CANAVERAL/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Basking in the sunrise glow, the world’s first recycled booster – namely a SpaceX Falcon 9 – sailed serenely into Port Canaveral this morning, Tuesday, April 4, atop the tiny droneship on which it soft landed shortly after launching on March 30 for an unprecedented second time.

Shortly before sunrise, SpaceX’s recovered Falcon 9 first stage triumphantly arrived on Tuesday at the mouth of Port Canaveral and the public pier at Jetty Park around 7 am – greeted by excited onlookers, media and space buffs eager to be an eyewitness to the first rocket to launch and land two times fully intact !

The Falcon 9 standing proudly erect on the football field sized OCISLY droneship landing pad was towed into port by the Elsbeth III in the wee morning hours around 7 am. The ships made their way majestically along the channel westwards until reaching the docking port.

World’s first reflown rocket booster – the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage – sails back into Port Canaveral, FL just before sunrise atop OCISLY droneship on which it landed 9 minutes after March 30, 2017 liftoff from KSC with SES-10 telecomsat – as seen being towed into channels mouth from Jetty Park pier on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Check out this expanding gallery of eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself – for views you won’t see elsewhere.

Click back as the arrival gallery grows !

Twice flown Falcon 9 first stage arrives into Port Canaveral on April 4, 2017 floating atop droneship. Credit: Julian Leek

The milestone SpaceX mission to refly the first ever ‘used rocket’ blasted off right on time at the opening of the dinnertime launch window on Thursday, March 30, at 6:27 p.m. EDT.

The used two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket carried the SES-10 telecommunications payload to orbit using a ‘Flight-Proven’ Falcon 9 rocket from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

1st recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is hoisted off OCISLY droneship after arriving and docking at Port Canaveral, FL on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

After the 156 foot tall first stage booster completed its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers successfully guided it to a second landing on the tiny Of Course I Still Love You – OCISLY – drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

“This is a huge revolution in spaceflight,” billionaire SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk told reporters at the post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center press site, barely an hour after liftoff.

Musk’s goal is to drastically reduce the cost of spaceflight so that it will one day lead to a ‘City on Mars’.

Recovered and twice flown and landed SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage stands chained to the deck of the OCISLY droneship as seen being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral channels from Jetty Park pier on April 4, 2017. It launched on March 30, 2017 from KSC and delivered SES-10 telecomsat to GTO. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY had left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the March 30 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd history making approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

This recycled Falcon 9 first stage booster had initially launched a year ago in April 2016 for NASA on the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under contract for the space agency.

Check out these exquisite videos showing various aspects of the Port arrival and processing:

Video Caption: This video shows the return of the first re-used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to Port Canaveral on 4/4/17 in detail. After launching the SES-10 satellite on 3/30/17 it then landed on the OCISLY drone ship for the second time. The video highlights OCISLY’s return to port and docking. The booster was then hoisted off the droneship with a crane and stationed on a pedestal on land for processing. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: The booster looks ready for another flight after arriving in to Port Canaveral, FL on 4 April 2017 and launching/landing from KSC on 30 March 2017. Elon Musk has said it will be put on display in Florida. This is a total game changer for the rocket industry. Credit:USLaunchReport

After making its way picturesquely through Port Canaveral channel, the droneship was docked, Workers soon attached a metal cap to the top of the first stage.

Next they removed the restraining chains fastening the booster to the deck. Next they hoisted it off the droneship with a work crane and transported it onto a work pedestal on the ground for further processing.

By late evening I observed that the workers were still busily operating on the booster. They were welding the metal cap to the top of the booster. All 4 landing legs were still attached as of 10 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, April 4.

The legs will soon be detached so the booster can be rotated horizontal and trucked back to the huge hangar at pad 39A.

Watch for Ken’s continuing coverage direct from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center press site and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Workers weld cap to top of relaunched/recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 at night with gorgeous water reflections after hoisting it off the OCISLY droneship onto ground work platform at Port Canaveral, FL on April 4, 2017 . Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Workers process the relaunched/recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 at night with gorgeous water reflections after hoisting it off the OCISLY droneship onto ground work platform at Port Canaveral, FL on April 4, 2017 . Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk and SES CTO Martin Halliwell exuberantly shake hands of congratulation following the successful delivery of SES-10 TV comsat to orbit using the first reflown and flight proven booster in world history at the March 30, 2017 post launch media briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Closeup of base of reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket and 4 landing legs after Port Canaveral arrival on droneship on Apr 4, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek
ELSBETH III towing OCISLY and Falcon 9, next to Jetty Park pier at the entrance to Port Canaveral channel. Good fisherman story… “hey I think I just caught me a big rocket!” As reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 floats by on OCISLY droneship onlookers and fisherman watch from Jetty Park pier on 4 April 2017. Credit: Chuck Higgins

Slowly making their way down Port Canaveral channel as the Sun continues to rise on ELSBETH III towing OCISLY. Credit: Carol Higgins
Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 on OCISLY is towed by ELSBETH III and slowly makes its way down Port Canaveral channel as the Sun continues to rise and buzzards keep watch. Credit: Jean Wright

1st reflown/relanded SpaceX Falcon 9 booster sails past pelicans and pleasure craft atop OCISLY droneship through Port Canaveral channel, FL on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

1st Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 Soars to Orbit with SES-10 Revolutionizing Rocketry Forever – Photo/Video Gallery

Worlds 1st ever reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Billion dollar bet on rocket recycling paid off beautifully when the world’s first ever reflown rocket booster – a SpaceX Falcon 9 – roared off NASA’s historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center and successfully delivered the next generation SES-10 TV satellite to orbit and simultaneously shot revolutionary shock waves reverberating forever across the rocket industry worldwide.

“This is a huge revolution in spaceflight,” billionaire SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk told reporters at the post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center press site, barely an hour after liftoff.

And as if the relaunch of a ‘Flight-Proven’ booster was not enough, SpaceX engineers deftly maneuvered the Falcon 9 first stage to a second successful pinpoint landing on a miniscule droneship at sea.

The stunning events were captured by journalists and tourists gathered from around the globe to witness history in the making with their own eyeballs.

Check out this expanding gallery of eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself – for views you won’t see elsewhere.

Click back as the gallery grows !

SpaceX Falcon 9 with SES-10 telecomsat soars to orbit over Melbourne Airport, FL, on March 30, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The milestone SpaceX mission to refly the first ever ‘used rocket’ blasted off right on time at the opening of the dinnertime launch window on Thursday, March 30, at 6:27 p.m. EDT.

The used two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket carried the SES-10 telecommunications payload to orbit using a ‘Flight-Proven’ Falcon 9 rocket from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Musk said SpaceX invested about a billion dollars of his firm’s own funds and 15 years of hard won effort to accomplish the unprecedented feat that many experts deemed virtually unattainable or outright impossible.

“This represents the culmination of 15 years of work at SpaceX to be able to refly a rocket booster,” Musk elaborated.

“It’s really a great day, not just for SpaceX, but for the space industry as a whole, proving something can be done that many people said was impossible.”

But SES Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Martin Martin Halliwell had faith in SpaceX from the beginning and unabashedly discounted the risk – based on his in depth knowledge.

‘We had a team embedded with SpaceX all along the way,” SES CTO Haliwell said at the post launch briefing.

Furthermore Halliwell was instrumental in signing up telecom giant SES as the paying customer who had complete confidence in placing his firm’s expensive SES-10 communication satellite atop SpaceX’s history making used and now successfully reflown booster.

“There have been naysayers,” Halliwell told reporters at a prelaunch press briefing on March 28. “I can tell you there was a chief engineer of another launch provider — I will not say the name — who told me, categorically to my face, you will never land a first stage booster. It is impossible. If you do it then it will be completely wrecked.”

“We are confident in this booster,” Halliwell told me at the prelaunch briefing.

“There is not a huge risk,” Halliwell stated emphatically. “In this particular case we know that the reusability capability is built into the design of the Falcon 9 vehicle.”

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk and SES CTO Martin Halliwell exuberantly shake hands of congratulation following the successful delivery of SES-10 TV comsat to orbit using the first reflown and flight proven booster in world history at the March 30, 2017 post launch media briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“You’ve got to decouple the emotion from the engineering,” Halliwell elaborated on Thursday’s launch. “The engineering team that Elon has working for him is really second to none. He asks very simple profound questions. And he gets very good answers. The proof is in the pudding.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 and SES-10 Satellite clear the tower at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 on March 30, 2017 – as seen from KSC Visitor Complex Apollo/Saturn Center. Credit: Carol Higgins

“This will rock the space industry,” said Halliwell at the post launch media briefing. “And SpaceX already has!”

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The recycled Falcon delivered the nearly six ton SES-10 satellite to geostationary transfer orbit where it will provide significantly improved TV, voice, data and maratime service to over 37 million customers across Central and South America.

This recycled Falcon 9 first stage booster first launched in April 2016 for NASA on the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under contract for the space agency.

Furthermore, after the 156 foot tall first stage booster completed its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers successfully guided it to a second landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

OCISLY had left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the March 30 launch and was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd history making approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

It thus became the first booster in history to launch twice and land twice.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and SES-10 Satellite rising higher, picking up speed at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 on March 30, 2017 – as seen from KSC Visitor Complex Apollo/Saturn Center. . Credit: Carol Higgins

Watch for Ken’s continuing coverage direct from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center press site and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 and SES-10 Satellite rising higher, picking up speed at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 on March 30, 2017 – as seen from KSC Visitor Complex Apollo/Saturn Center. Credit: Carol Higgins
Liftoff, fire & smoke, with SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket 9 and SES-10 Satellite rising off the launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 on March 30, 2017 – as seen from KSC Visitor Complex Apollo/Saturn Center. Credit: Carol Higgins
1st relaunched SpaceX Falcon 9 arcs over towards Africa after blastoff from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017 carrying SES-10 telecomsat to GTO. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Re-launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with SES-10 comsat soaring to orbit with trailing exhaust trail as seen above the Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL. Credit: Melissa Bayles
Re-launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with SES-10 comsat soaring to orbit with trailing exhaust trail as seen above the Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL. Credit: Melissa Bayles
Heading downrange, higher and higher, faster and faster — SpaceX Falcon 9 and SES-10 Satellite liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A on March 30, 2017 – as seen from KSC Visitor Complex Apollo/Saturn Center. Credit: Carol Higgins
Heading downrange, higher and higher, faster and faster — SpaceX Falcon 9 and SES-10 Satellite liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A on March 30, 2017 – as seen from KSC Visitor Complex Apollo/Saturn Center. Credit: Carol Higgins

SES Boldly Goes Where No Firm Has Gone Before, Inks Deal to Fly on 1st SpaceX ‘Flight-Proven’ Booster

First launch of flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use CRS-8 booster that delivered Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
First launch of flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use CRS-8 booster that delivered Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL — The telecommunications giant SES is boldly going where no company has gone before by making history in inking a deal today, Aug. 30, to fly the expensive SES-10 commercial satellite on the first ever launch of a ‘Flight-Proven’ SpaceX booster – that’s been used and recovered.

Luxembourg-based SES and Hawthrone, CA-based SpaceX today jointly announced the agreement to “launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster” before the end of this year.

“The satellite, which will be in a geostationary orbit and expand SES’s capabilities across Latin America, is scheduled for launch in Q4 2016. SES-10 will be the first-ever satellite to launch on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket booster,” according to a joint statement.

That first launch of a flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage will use the CRS-8 booster that delivered a SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station in April 2016. The reflight could happen as soon as October 2016.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moved by crane from drone ship to an upright storage cradle on land at Port Canaveral,  Florida on April 12, 2016.  Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA CRS-8 cargo mission is moved by crane from drone ship to an upright storage cradle on land at Port Canaveral, Florida on April 12, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek

The deal marks a major milestone and turning point in SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk’s long sought endeavor to turn the science fictionesque quest of rocket reusability into the scientific fact of reality.

“Thanks for the longstanding faith in SpaceX,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk after today’s joint SES/SpaceX announcement.

“We very much look forward to doing this milestone flight with you.”

Elon Musk’s goal is to radically slash the cost of launching rockets and access to space via rocket recycling – in a way that will one day lead to his vision of a ‘City on Mars.’

Over just the past 8 months, SpaceX has successfully recovered 6 of the firms Falcon 9 first stage boosters intact – by land and by sea since December 2015 – in hopes of recycling and reusing them with new payloads from paying customers daring enough to take the risk of stepping into the unknown!

SES is that daring company and has repeatedly shown faith in SpaceX. They were the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX with SES-8 back in October 2013. Earlier this year the firm also launched SES-9 on the recently upgraded full thrust version of Falcon 9 in March 2016.

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Feb. 25, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 prior to launch of SES-9 communications satellite on Mar. 4, 2016 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES, in the statement.

“This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on April 8, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station.   Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on April 8, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Julian Leek

But the company first has to prove that the used vehicle can survive the extreme and unforgiving stresses of the violent spaceflight environment before they can relaunch it. So they have been carefully inspecting it for structural integrity, checking all the booster systems, plumbing, avionics, etc and retesting the first stage Merlin 1D engines.

Multiple full duration hot fire tests of the fully integrated booster have been conducted at the SpaceX test facility in McGregor, Texas as part of long life endurance testing. This includes igniting all nine used first stage Merlin 1D engines housed at the base of a landed rocket for approximately three minutes.

For the SES-10 launch, SpaceX plans to use the Falcon 9 booster that landed on an ocean going drone ship from NASA’s CRS-8 space station mission launched in April 2016, said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, to reporters recently at the Kennedy Space Center during NASA’s CRS-9 cargo launch to the ISS.

SpaceX has derived many lessons learned on how to maximize the chances for a successful rocket recovery, Koenigsmann explained to Universe Today at KSC when I asked for some insight.

“We learned a lot … from the landings,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.

“There are no structural changes first of all.”

“The key thing is to protect the engines- and make sure that they start up well [in space during reentry],” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry.”

“And in particular the hot trajectory, so to speak, like the ones that comes in after a fast payload, like the geo-transfer payload basically.”

“Those engines need to be protected so that they start up in the proper way. That’s something that we learned.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.

“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told me.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing  rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX.

“SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX’s approach to reusability over the years and we’re delighted that the first launch of a flight-proven rocket will carry SES-10.”

Remote camera photo from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX
Remote camera photo from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship of Falcon 9 first stage landing following launch of Dragon cargo ship to ISS on CRS-8 mission on 8 April 2016. Credit: SpaceX

How much money will SES save by using a spent, recycled first stage Falcon 9 booster?

SpaceX says the price of a completely new Falcon 9 booster is approximately $60 million.

Shotwell has said SpaceX will reduce the cost about 30%. So SES might be saving around $20 million – but there are no published numbers regarding this particular launch contract.

Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL,  atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL, atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SES-10 will be the first SES satellite wholly dedicated to Latin America.

“The satellite will provide coverage over Mexico, serve the Spanish speaking South America in one single beam, and cover Brazil with the ability to support off-shore oil and gas exploration,” according to SES.

It will replace capacity currently provided by two other satellites, namely AMC-3 and AMC-4, and will “provide enhanced coverage and significant capacity expansion over Latin America – including Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The high-powered, tailored and flexible beams will provide direct-to-home broadcasting, enterprise and mobility services.”

It is equipped with a Ku-band payload of 55 36MHz transponder equivalents, of which 27 are incremental. It will be stationed at 67 degrees West.

SES-10 was built by Airbus Defence and Space and is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. Notably it will use “an electric plasma propulsion system for on-orbit manoeuvres and a chemical system for initial orbit raising and some on-orbit manoeuvres.”

SES-10 satellite mission artwork. Credit: SES
SES-10 satellite mission artwork. Credit: SES

The most recent SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to be recovered followed the dramatic overnight launch of the Japanese JCSAT-16 telecom satellite on Aug. 14.

Port Canaveral aerial view showing SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage back on land in storage cradle after arriving back into port and craning off droneship barge it propulsively soft landed on after launching JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat on Aug. 14, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Port Canaveral aerial view showing SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage back on land in storage cradle after arriving back into port and craning off droneship barge it propulsively soft landed on after launching JCSAT-16 Japanese comsat on Aug. 14, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. NASA’s. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was towed back into port on atop the diminutive OCISLY ocean landing platform that measures only about 170 ft × 300 ft (52 m × 91 m). SpaceX formally dubs it an ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship’ or ASDS.

The 6 successful Falcon upright first stage landings are part of a continuing series of SpaceX technological marvels/miracles rocking the space industry to its core.

SpaceX had already successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea earlier this year on the ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27, prior to JCSAT-16 on Aug. 14.

Two land landings back at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone-1 were accomplished on Dec. 21, 2015 and July 18, 2016.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster moving along the Port Canaveral channel atop droneship platform with cruise ship in background nears ground docking facility on June 2, 2016 following Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 booster moving along the Port Canaveral channel atop droneship platform with cruise ship in background nears ground docking facility on June 2, 2016 following Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX SES-9 launch from Cape Canaveral AFS, FL on March 4, 2016.    Credit:  Julian Leek
SpaceX SES-9 launch from Cape Canaveral AFS, FL on March 4, 2016. Credit: Julian Leek
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com