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Elon Musk: SpaceX May Aim for Completely Reusable Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX's reusable-rocket ambitions are apparently even grander than we thought. The company lofted the SES-10 communications satellite to orbit Thursday (March 30) using a Falcon 9 booster whose first stage already had a space mission under its belt — a historic milestone in SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk's quest to slash the cost of spaceflight through the use of reusable hardware. The two-stage Falcon 9's first stage landed successfully, for the second time, about 9 minutes after liftoff Thursday. But that's not the only piece of the rocket that SpaceX recovered. During a post-launch teleconference with reporters Thursday evening, Musk revealed that the Falcon 9's payload fairing — the protective nose cone that shielded SES-10 during launch — came back for a soft splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to onboard thrusters and a steerable parachute. "That was definitely the cherry on the cake," Musk said. That cherry is pretty valuable: It cost about $6 million to build the 16.5-foot-wide (5 meters) fairing, Musk said. (For perspective, SpaceX currently sells Falcon 9 launches for $62 million each.) "That's looking quite promising," he said of the fairing's return-to-Earth technology. "So what we'll have is kind of like a bouncy castle for it to land on, and aim to reuse the fairing as well." And that may not be all. "We didn't originally intend for Falcon 9 to have a reusable upper stage, but it might be fun to try like a Hail Mary," Musk said. "What's the worst that could happen — it blows up? It blows up anyway." Read More: Space.com

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