The private spaceflight company SpaceX plans to relaunch one of its Falcon 9 boosters into orbit this fall — a test flight that will mark the next giant leap in the firm's pursuit of reusable rocket technology.
SpaceX has four successful rocket landings under its belt, including three back-to-back touchdowns at sea this spring, the most recent of which launched and landed on May 27. That latest Falcon 9 booster returned to Cape Canaveral, Florida (its launch site) on June 2 atop SpaceX's drone ship landing pad "Of Course I Still Love You." It was ultimately moved to a SpaceX hangar at Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center earlier this week.
"Fourth rocket arrives in the hangar," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote in a Twitter post on Tuesday (June 7) as the latest booster was safely stored away. "Aiming for first reflight in Sept./Oct." (You can check out more photos of SpaceX's latest rocket landing here.)
Successfully launching and landing a Falcon 9 rocket that has already flown in space is a major goal for SpaceX's reusable rocket program. The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is equipped with landing legs, control vanes and other technology that allow the boosters to return to Earth and land on a ground-based pad (which occurred in December 2015) or on a drone ship in the ocean (as in the three other successful landings).
SpaceX wants to develop a reusable launch system to make spaceflight more affordable. Each Falcon 9 rocket costs about $16 million to build, but the cost of the propellant for each flight is just $200,000, Musk has said. Therefore, rocket reuse represents a potentially huge cost reduction.
Musk has long stated that his long-range goal for SpaceX is to make a Mars colony a reality. But to do that, the cost of spaceflight needs to be lower.
SpaceX is also developing a larger rocket — the three-booster Falcon Heavy, which is also designed to include fly-back boosters.
SpaceX is not the only company testing reusable rockets. Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company founded by billionaire and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, has successfully launched and landed its suborbital New Shepard rocket and space capsule three times, with a fourth test flight expected later this month.