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SpaceX Test-Fires Used Rocket Ahead of Historic Thursday Launch
On Monday (March 27), SpaceX test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket whose first stage has already flown one orbital mission. The booster remains on track to loft the SES-10 communications satellite Thursday (March 30), in the first-ever orbital mission employing a used rocket.
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is on track to make history later this week.

Today (March 27), the company test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket whose first stage launched the robotic Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station last April. If all goes according to plan, the two-stage booster will loft the SES-10 communications satellite Thursday (March 30), in the first-ever orbital mission employing a used rocket.

"Static fire test complete. Targeting Thursday, March 30 for Falcon 9 launch of SES-10," SpaceX representatives wrote on Twitter today.

SpaceX has made a priority of developing reusable rockets, as a way of slashing the cost of spaceflight. The company, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2002, has landed Falcon 9 first stages during eight different orbital missions, with the latest such success coming last month.

But Thursday will mark the first time the company has ever re-flown one of these landed boosters.

Some Falcon 9 first stages touch down near their launch sites. But rockets lofting payloads to distant orbits generally don't have enough fuel left to make it all the way back to terra firma, so they land on autonomous "drone ships" at sea.

The Falcon 9 first stage set to launch Thursday was the first rocket ever to ace a drone ship landing. (It was the second Falcon 9 to touch down successfully overall; the first came back at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in December 2015.)

The Luxembourg-based company SES will use SES-10 to provide broadcasting services across Latin America. SpaceX reportedly gave SES a discount for flying with a used Falcon 9 first stage. (Flights of the rocket normally cost $62 million.)

Thursday's mission won't mark the first time a used rocket has ever reached space. Blue Origin, the company run by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, launched the same New Shepard rocket on five different test flights from November 2015 to October 2016. But all of those missions went to suborbital, not orbital, space.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.