SpaceX, the rocket company founded by tech mogul Elon Musk, is poised to make good on its promise to slash the cost of launching things into space.
In December 2015, SpaceX did something no commercial aerospace company had done before: It launched a satellite into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, then safely landed the rocket’s lower half, called a first-stage booster, on a launchpad.
Musk was ecstatic, and for good reason. Orbital rockets cost tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars to build, but they’re never recycled; they typically smash into the ocean and sink to the bottom.
While SpaceX has filled a large hangar with used rocket boosters over the past year, it has yet to show the boosters can be re-launched.
But the feat now seems imminent.
As we first learned from a post by Eric Berger at Ars Technica, SpaceX could pull off its first-ever launch of a used booster as early as March 29. The rocket part will help ferry a new communications satellite into orbit – then go for a second touchdown.
“Will attempt a droneship landing [of the booster], too,” John Taylor, SpaceX’s director of communication, wrote in an email to Business Insider.
If the upcoming mission, called SES-10, goes as planned, it could mark the beginning of an era where SpaceX can reliably offer the lowest cost per pound to get stuff to and from low-Earth orbit and beyond.
How deep will the discount be?
In 2016, Gwynne Shotwell, the president and COO of SpaceX, said customers who launch on a used booster could get 30% off their launch bill.
That means SpaceX customers save about $18.6 million per launch (and SpaceX likely more) when a recycled Falcon 9 rocket booster is used instead of a new one.
Those savings could further compound as SpaceX prepares to debut its gigantic Falcon Heavy rocket system, which will use three boosters – all of which can self-land, be fueled up, and launch again.
This post was updated with comments from SpaceX.