Thrifty isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind when thinking of SpaceX, but it’s becoming increasingly apt. The spaceflight company marked its tenth successful rocket recovery after a launch this week, demonstrating once again that they’re able to preserve and reuse rockets for later launches.
There’s a lot that goes into making spaceflight expensive, but historically, one of the biggest financial drains has been the rockets, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and, until recently, were single-use only. SpaceX changed that in December of 2015, when they successfully landed a rocket vertically after a launch, keeping the rocket intact for later use. While this is the tenth rocket SpaceX has successfully recovered, it’s only the fourth that they’ve landed vertically. SpaceX uses on-board computers and piloting software to guide the rockets back to earth after launch, which is now sophisticated enough to land the rockets on a barge.
It’s been a good year for SpaceX. In late March, the company finally made good on the promise of cheaper space travel by successfully reusing one of the rockets they had blasted off the previous year.
There was one little thing unusual about this week’s launch, though — we don’t know exactly what that rocket was carrying! SpaceX is usually open about that stuff, but this time, the client was the United States National Reconnaissance Office. Being in the business of spying, they weren’t too keen on word getting out about whatever new toy is now floating above our heads. The video of the launch cut away from the rocket before it left Earth, cutting back to the first stage of the rocket making its vertical landing.