SpaceX set for rocket launch double feature


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SpaceX successfully launches a used rocket

Grab your popcorn. Coming up this weekend: A rocket launch double feature.

If all goes as planned, SpaceX — the private space exploration company headed by Tesla (TSLA) chief Elon Musk — will launch two rockets in just two days.

First up is a Friday afternoon launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which is scheduled for a 3:10 pm ET takeoff.

That launch was supposed to occur last Monday, but it was delayed due to an issue with the rocket’s fairing — the very top portion of the rocket that houses the payload. In this case, the payload will be the telecommunications satellite BulgariaSat -1, the first geostationary communications satellite in Bulgaria’s history, according to SpaceX.

Friday’s launch will mark only the second time SpaceX has attempted to put a used, first-stage rocket booster back into space. The booster was previously used in a January mission.

SpaceX wants to reuse its rockets in order to drastically reduce the price of a single launch. Recovering, refurbishing and then re-flying an orbital-class rocket is a feat no other company has accomplished. And completing a second mission with a used rocket will signal to SpaceX’s customers that it can pull off the maneuver safely. That could mean more launches will use pre-flown rocket boosters, making them cheaper.

Musk says he wants to eventually reduce the cost of a launch by a factor of 100.

SpaceX’s playbook: Make history, then make more history

SpaceX first put a used rocket back to work in March. The mission went off without a hitch, and SpaceX even recaptured the used first-stage booster. Musk said SpaceX will gift that history-making booster to the Kennedy Space Center.

After liftoff on Friday, the first-stage booster will detach from the upper-stage rocket and attempt to navigate back to land on a platform stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

And if all that isn’t enough, tune in again in just two days to catch another SpaceX launch on Sunday.

It’s slated for a 4:25 pm ET liftoff from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 160 miles north of Los Angeles.

Sunday’s launch won’t use a pre-flown booster. But it will carry an interesting payload: A group of satellites that will be used to help eliminate the “black zones” in tracking commercial airplanes, like the Malaysia Airlines flight which vanished somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

Related: Ron Howard is on a mission to make science sexy

The Iridium Next satellite network will provide — among other services — global real-time surveillance of all flights. That means missing airplanes could become a thing of the past.

It will take a few launches to get the full network into orbit. SpaceX sent up the first set of 10 these satellites in January, and Sunday’s mission will deliver the second batch. Six more missions over the next year will get the full satellite constellation into orbit.

CNNMoney (New York) First published June 23, 2017: 2:49 PM ET


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