Sci-Tech

Elon Musk's SpaceX launches recycled rocket in historic first

The space company successfully relaunches an orbital class rocket for the first time ever, making it perhaps the largest tin can to ever be recycled.

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The first successful relaunch of an orbital rocket.

Video capture by Eric Mack/CNET

Recycling isn't just for cans, bottles and really sucky gifts anymore.

Nearly 15 years after setting out to revolutionize how we get to space, Elon Musk's company SpaceX successfully relaunched an orbital rocket Thursday that had previously been used to push a payload beyond the grasp of Earth's gravity.

The Falcon 9 rocket that launched the SES-10 commercial communications satellite from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the same rocket SpaceX used to send a Dragon spacecraft on a commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station in April 2016.

A few minutes after sending the Dragon on its way April 8, the rocket successfully landed on the SpaceX drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean. It was the first such Falcon 9 landing attempt that didn't end in a spectacular explosion. Clearly, this rocket had to be the one.

The rocket was recovered, reconditioned and reloaded for its second launch, which happened at 3:27 p.m. PT Thursday.

Roughly 10 minutes later, the Falcon 9 made its second visit to "Of Course I Still Love You" off the coast of Florida, landing right in the center of the landing-pad bullseye. As with all SpaceX launch attempts, this one was webcast live, with a large crowd of employees cheering loudly in the background from company headquarters in California.

"This is going to be ultimately a huge revolution in spaceflight," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said immediately after the landing. "It's the difference between if you had airplanes where you threw away an airplane after every flight versus you could reuse them multiple times."

Reusing rockets has been a cornerstone of the SpaceX business model, which is centered on driving down the cost of accessing space.

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The Falcon 9's second successful landing.

Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has already landed and relaunched its smaller, suborbital New Shepard rockets, but as part of simple test flights versus the much more complicated orbital missions SpaceX has been sending its Falcon 9 fleet to carry out.

Now that SpaceX has seen success with its company recycling initiative, it can continue to push on to other modest goals, like putting a million people on Mars.

First published at 3:31 p.m. PT.
Update, 3:45 p.m. PT: Added information on successful landing.

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