CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched a Bulgarian television satellite on a "flight-proven" rocket Friday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, kicking off a doubleheader weekend with the first of two planned launches, first on the East Coast and then on the West Coast.
This liftoff marked the second mission during which a recycled rocket booster was flown by SpaceX. A second success brings the company's founder Elon Musk closer to making re-used rocket launches the new normal in pursuit of his ultimate goal of starting a colony on Mars.
The Bulgaria-Sat-1 launch was delayed from Monday to Friday to allow time for SpaceX to replace a fairing valve. Then, "additional ground systems checks" pushed back the original 2:10 p.m. liftoff to 3:10 p.m., leaving a one-hour window open.
The Falcon 9 was delivering to space an 8,000-pound communications satellite for Bulgaria, providing television and data services to the region of Europe. The satellite was the second to ever fly on a flight-proven rocket.
The previously flown Falcon 9 booster No. 29 first launched and landed in January.
About eight minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage touched down on the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You, in the Atlantic Ocean, making it the 12th booster to be recovered by SpaceX.
The booster barely missed the "X" target on the drone ship landing a little off to the side, but all the same, the rocket will be fully recovered and reused on another mission after restoration.
“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today's launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn't make it back,” Musk tweeted prior to liftoff.
Musk described the rocket at “extra toasty,” after hitting the droneship deck hard, but otherwise it was in good condition.
For those watching the launch from Titusville Space View Park, this liftoff was special, whether or not they realized the impact on space exploration reusing rockets could ultimately have.
Tommy Mathis and his daughter, visiting from Austin, Texas, said he thought it was time to see one in person.
"I grew up watching all of the launches on TV, and it was the TV you had to watch,” Mathis said. “You know, you wanted to see what was going to happen, so I have never seen one live."
Mathis said their flight leaves Friday night, but they had to see a launch before they left.
Louis Gabbard brought her granddaughter, Savannah, to see their first launch together. Before Friday, Savannah said she had only seen one on YouTube.
But it wasn’t just a cool rocket launch to Savannah: She knew the satellite was to help a European nation improve its communication.
“For, like, communications in Bulgaria, their own technology,” she explained.
For the second part of its doubleheader weekend, SpaceX is set to launch the Iridium-2 satellite on Sunday afternoon from Vandenberg Air Force base in California. It’s the second of eight planned Iridium NEXT launches for the commercial satellite company.
The launch window opens at 4:25 p.m. EDT (1:25 p.m. local Pacific time), and the 30th Space Wing weather officials are forecasting no issues, with a 100 percent chance of launch as of Friday morning.
SpaceX achieved a major milestone in March after successfully launching its first mission using a reclaimed Falcon 9 booster. SES was the first commercial satellite provider to contract SpaceX for a launch in 2013 and was first again using a flight-proven SpaceX booster for SES-10. The Luxemburg-based company SES also has contracts to use three more flight-proven rockets.
Musk said the 15-year wait was worth it to achieve the company’s goal of reusable rockets.
"This is going to be a huge evolution in spaceflight," Musk said after the March launch.