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SpaceX aims for rarefied air with upcoming launches

  • SpaceX will launch two different Falcon 9 rockets, on Friday and Sunday.
  • Elon Musk's company would be the first to both launch and land two rockets in 48 hours.
  • United Launch Alliance successfully launched two rockets in two days in March 2008.
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX
Getty Images | Robyn Beck
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX

With its pair of launches on Friday and Sunday, SpaceX hopes to demonstrate its rocket services can be a cost-effective, rapid-turnaround means of reaching the final frontier.

No private company has successfully launched two rockets in a 48-hour time frame since United Launch Alliance did so in March 2008 — and SpaceX aims to both land its rockets and reuse them later.

A joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing and a major competitor to SpaceX, United Launch Alliance's CEO Tony Bruno wished SpaceX well, writing on Twitter, "Good Luck & congrats upon success. Having routinely achieved high launch rates, I know that tempo is anything but routine."

The first launch by Elon Musk's company will occur at Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a two hour window beginning at 2:10 p.m. ET. The BulgariaSat-1 Mission will deliver a commercial communications satellite to orbit aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. The first stage of this specific rocket was used previously this year, in a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January.

After separating with its payload, the Falcon 9's first stage will attempt to land upright on a mobile droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Two days later, SpaceX will launch a separate Falcon 9 rocket from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, this time with a payload of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. Scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, this mission will continue to fulfill SpaceX's contract to deliver 75 Iridium satellites into low-Earth orbit by mid-2018.

The Falcon 9's first stage is then intended to land on another SpaceX autonomous droneship, this time located in the Pacific Ocean.

In 2008, on March 13 and March 15, United Launch Alliance succeeded in blasting off one of each of its Atlas V and Delta II rockets. However, both launch vehicles were expendable systems, and were not reused.