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Elon Musk might just have gone through another – probably expensive – divorce for the second time with one of his wives, but he has definitely maintained his sense of humour. His SpaceX rocket ship’s important first stage successfully landed onto a floating barge on April 8th.
The humour was that the barge had a large painted sign around the target landing spot on its deck, saying “Of course I still love you”.
That humour – and the flawless landing – is now going to pay off. Musk told journalists that they will now carry out 10 test firings of the Falcon-9 rocket engines to ensure that all is well, and then re-use the 1st stage on a future mission, possibly as early as June. Musk said he expected it to be for a paying customer.
That breakthrough mission could well be for Luxembourg-based SES, and its SES-10 satellite, which is due to launch this year. Even if not for SES, the ‘fly and re-use’ financial model could revolutionise satellite launches, saving the industry millions in launch costs.
SES’ CTO Martin Halliwell has frequently spoken of his wish to re-use a SpaceX rocket – provided the price was right! The current price for a SpaceX launch is typically around $61 million. That price could fall to $43 million, or less.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO, speaking at the recent Washington Satellite 2016 show, said: “The key is to design a system that you don’t need to refurbish (between missions). The key is for us to have zero refurbishment.”
However, she also said that she was confident that SpaceX would recover 75-80 per cent of the satellites launched to Low Earth orbit, and 50-60 per cent of those missions which launched geostationary satellites. Either way, that’s a nice way of saying “I still love you”.