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SpaceX Will Make Reusable Spaceflight History on Thursday If All Goes According to Plan

[UPDATE: Watch the launch above, starting at 6:30PM EDT.]

Landing rockets back on Earth after using them for transport to space is pretty impressive on its own, but it’s not worth much if those same rockets don’t go back to space. Finally, after months of testing, SpaceX plans to make one of its refurbished Falcon 9 rockets do just that.

On Thursday, a Falcon 9 recovered after a resupply mission to the International Space Station will carry a satellite to a geostationary orbit, keeping pace with the Earth’s rotation to stay above the same spot. It will then attempt to land again back on the ground, but just making the trip in the first place is a big deal.

It’s also a dangerous one, which is why it’s good that SpaceX found a willing partner in satellite operator SES. SES has had a long relationship with SpaceX, and they were previously excited to announce, back in August, they’d be the first to launch aboard a reused rocket. While the refurb jobs have been strenuously tested by SpaceX, there are never any guarantees, and the company has lost even brand new rockets in launch mishaps more than once in the past.

They’ve also already deemed some recovered rockets unfit to return to flight due to damage sustained during the landing process. The added risk from rockets that have already flown comes with a price discount for companies looking for a ticket—albeit currently a small one as the tech is still in development. We’ll find out on Thursday whether that discount is worth it, with the rocket’s launch window from about 6:30PM EDT to 9:00PM EDT.

Currently, the part of the Falcon 9 that lands and gets reused is the rocket’s “first stage,” which provides the main thrust on liftoff. Once that part of the process becomes routine, the end goal is a fully reusable rocket to dramatically bring down the cost of space flight and revolutionize the entire spaceflight industry. That’s still a long way off, but it can’t happen without taking this first step.

(via The Verge, image via SpaceX)

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