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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — In a historic milestone, SpaceX successfully launched and landed a previously used orbital rocket booster for the first time Thursday evening.The launch is considered historic because relaunching commercial booster rockets on a regular basis could lower the cost of commercial space activity and space exploration. The launch and landing on a barge in the ocean went off without a hitch, lifting off as the launch window opened.
Shortly after launch, SpaceX founder Elon Musk went live on the company’s webcast to call the event “an incredible milestone in the history of space.”
In a post-launch news conference at Kennedy Space Center, he said he was surprisingly calm.
“I was nervous that I wasn’t nervous enough,” Musk said. “It was like a nested level of fear. It worked out as well as we could expect.”
He said SpaceX could fly as many as six refurbished rockets by the end of the year, including two on the company’s new, larger Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.
As for the recovered booster Thursday, Musk said it has significant historic value and that he will consider donating it to a museum.
The two-stage rocket that made history Thursday, a Falcon 9, first launched in April 2016.
The rocket took off right on time from Launch Complex 39A carrying a satellite for the Luxembourg-based company SES Satellites.
SES chief technology officer Martin Halliwell said the achievement was significant for the space industry.
SES has plans to launch three more satellites with SpaceX this year. Halliwell said that could include two more on refurbished boosters.
“We made a little bit of history today and opened the door to a whole new era of spaceflight,” he said. “To be part of that, I feel privileged.”
Roughly nine minutes after the launch, the rocket settled down aboard the company’s “Of Course I Still Love You” barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
Last year, the same rocket took cargo to the International Space Station, then returned to Earth for a smooth landing on the same barge. That was the first time SpaceX recovered a rocket booster, a feat it has duplicated multiple times since then.
At the conference, Musk said that up to 70 percent of the cost of a rocket launch is the rocket booster. To make it reusable would significantly decrease the cost of launches, he said.
He hoped Thursday’s launch helps show others — both potential customers and competitors — that reuse is the way to go in the space industry.
“If a company shows a path that is working, other companies should copy that,” Musk said. “It would be silly not to.”