SpaceX chief Musk sets new bar on reusable rocket engine

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from space launch complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on March 30, 2017.
Bruce Weaver | AFP | Getty Images

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is pleased, but not satisfied.

California-based SpaceX achieved an unprecedented milestone Thursday night, by successfully launching a previously used portion of its Falcon 9 rocket, and then once again reclaiming it.

The rocket carried a satellite for communications provider SES into geosynchronous orbit, before landing on a drone ship called "Of Course I love You." SpaceX has been launching satellites for Luxembourg-based SES for years, and SES reportedly received a discount on the launch for being the first client to launch with a reused rocket.

The launch "shows you can fly and re-fly an orbit-class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket," Musk said on a SpaceX webcast during the flight. "This is ultimately a huge revolution in spaceflight."

Musk congratulated his team via Twitter after the launch, and then immediately issued another challenge: reduce turnaround time between future launches to 24 hours.

Tweet 1

SpaceX has said reusing rockets could lower launch costs by 30 percent of the $62 million starting price the company currently charges, which is already a discount over competitors' prices.

Slashing turnaround times could be another valuable goal for the company, particularly as launch costs continue to fall.

SpaceX has a new customer - the US Air Force
SpaceX has a new customer - the US Air Force

SpaceX still has a backlog of launches it has to get through, and if costs fall further, there could very well be more private and public sector clients knocking at its door, or seeking out its competitors.

Apart from its cost-saving benefits, recycling rocket components would spare SpaceX the time needed to manufacture new parts, which could reduce its turnaround time.

In addition to commercial customers, many of which are satellite companies, SpaceX launches rockets for U.S. government clients, including NASA.