SES — an international satellite operator based in Luxembourg — will be the first company to launch cargo to space on a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket will carry the company’s SES-10 satellite, meant to provide telecommunications coverage to Latin America, into a very high orbit above Earth. That launch is scheduled for sometime in the fourth quarter of 2016 and will mark the first time SpaceX flies one of the rockets it has landed this past year.
"We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight."
"Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX's first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket," Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer at SES, said in a statement. "We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management."
SES has been very vocal about its desire to be the first company to launch on a reused Falcon 9. Back in February, Halliwell told a group of reporters at Cape Canaveral that the company had "challenged" SpaceX to let SES be the first to fly on a previously flown rocket, Spaceflight Now reported. He even suggested that SpaceX didn’t need to do any demonstration missions first; the company was trusting enough to fly on a reused Falcon 9 without any flight tests.
A rendering of the SES-10 satellite. (SES)
The SES-10 satellite will be flying on the Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX landed in April. It’s the vehicle that launched cargo to the International Space Station and then afterward, touched down on a drone ship at sea. The vehicle is somewhat special for SpaceX, since it made the first successful ocean landing after numerous failed attempts. Following that landing, SpaceX has recovered three more rockets at sea.
The SES-10 satellite will be flying on the Falcon 9 that landed in April
The whole purpose of reusing these vehicles is to lower the cost of getting cargo into orbit. Traditionally, orbital rockets don’t survive the trip into space and cannot be used again. That means that rocket manufacturers have to make an entirely new rocket for each subsequent flight into space. But by landing its rockets, SpaceX can fly them again and reduce its manufacturing costs. The company’s president Gwynne Shotwell estimates that flying a landed Falcon 9 could cut launch prices by 30 percent, according to Space News.
And it looks like SES may be the first to benefit from those savings. Markus Payer, a representative for SES, tells The Verge that SpaceX is giving the company a discount for this launch, but did not specify how much. Payer also said the decision to fly on a reused Falcon 9 is not only about cost but "also about having more vehicles available."