The mission for SpaceX employees is fairly simple: Reduce the cost of access to space so that humans can become a multi-planetary species.
What does that mean right now? Reduce the cost of access to space so that a small company in a small country can tap into the power of space communications.
SpaceX will use a previously-flown rocket stage to put Bulgaria’s first communications satellite into orbit today from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. That satellite will provide broadcast and communications service throughout eastern Europe. It is only the second time SpaceX has re-used a Falcon 9 rocket stage to deliver a customer’s cargo. Lift-off is expected at 3:10 pm US eastern time (7:10pm GMT) today, and you can watch along with SpaceX’s live webcast:
After the rocket has delivered its second stage to space and BulgariaSat is on its way to orbit, the first stage will fly back down to earth and land on an autonomous drone ship in the Atlantic ocean. SpaceX has invested millions of dollars in equipping its rockets to be reusable and teaching them how to safely pilot themselves to a soft landing.
SpaceX hopes to reuse its first stages as many as 10 times each, making launches a lot cheaper. While landing the rockets has become a fairly routine procedure, refurbishing and deploying them is still a new skill. The first time SpaceX—and indeed, any company—reused an orbital rocket was only a few months ago. Musk told his followers on twitter that there is even a decent chance this stage will not survive its trip back through the atmosphere.
Maxim Zayakov, BulgariaSat’s CEO, told Quartz that deploying this satellite was only possible because of the low cost of a SpaceX launch; previously, his telecommunications firm had leased space on another satellite. Musk has said that previously-flown rockets are sold at about a 30% discount, but even a brand-new Falcon 9 costs tens of millions of dollars less than those of other launch providers.
This launch is expected to mark the beginning of a busy weekend for Musk and company. SpaceX is also planning to launch a rocket in California on Sunday, a rare 48-hour rocket double-header that will help establish the firm’s capacity to rapidly deliver cargo into space.