Watch Live as SpaceX Launches Its First Reused Rocket

Tonight at 6:27 p.m. EDT, SpaceX will attempt to launch a satellite into orbit with a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket. It's the first time since the space shuttle program that a “flight-proven” launch system will have sent an object into orbit, and heralds the next era in spaceflight. The launch will happen from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at launch complex 39A—a location that's no stranger to history, having previously been used for the Apollo moon missions and later the space shuttle. The rocket has 2.5-hour launch window, and will carry an SES-10 communications satellite for SES, a Luxembourg-based satellite company. You can watch it live beginning about 6 p.m.

HISTORY MADE

It was never a given that the 15-year-old SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, would make it as far as it has. Starting an aerospace company to compete with Lockheed and Boeing was always a long shot, but the notion of landing rockets was the stuff of science fiction, let alone landing them vertically on an autonomous barge in the middle of the ocean, following an orbital launch at speeds greater than Mach 5.5. Then SpaceX started doing just that, repeatedly, and today SpaceX has seven previously flown rockets waiting for reuse.

To put this in context, every single orbital, cargo-bearing rocket used before the founding of SpaceX—except for those that blew up on the launch pad or otherwise went horribly wrong—was dropped into the ocean after launch. That's thousands of rockets confounding fish around the world.

For all the commercial and engineering triumphs of Elon Musk’s science fiction proving ground, however, one challenge has remained unattempted: to take one of those rockets used previously on a spaceflight, and to light that candle a second time. This has never been done before. The closest we’ve had was the space shuttle, which isn’t exactly a 1:1 comparison. The latter was one part of a much larger launch system, and at a billion dollars per launch, the shuttle wasn’t exactly a bargain.

Today it costs $62 million to launch a spacecraft with a Falcon 9 rocket. (They put it right there on their website.) Reuse could take launch costs down to as low as $40 million. This might not sound like much of a discount, but ULA charges approximately $109 million to launch something with an Atlas V rocket. For the same price, then, a company could buy two launches from SpaceX, or spend a lot more on research, development, and engineering of a spacecraft or constellation. The lower the barrier of entry to space, the more industries that can get involved.

“When SpaceX successfully launches a rocket with a reused booster, it will signal to mission operators and the financial markets that space industry margins are growing and that launch frequency will increase,” says Amir Blachman, the VP of Strategic Development for Axiom Space, a firm that specializes in building space stations and developing low-Earth orbit. “It is a signal that the upward inflection in space-generated revenue is happening now and not sometime in the far off future.”

Blachman tells mental_floss that this will also accelerate the number of human launches to the International Space Station and beyond. Elon Musk’s long term goal for SpaceX is to colonize Mars. Such a project will require scores of launches to move people and equipment from this planet to the next.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF A ROCKET

Preparing a Falcon 9 rocket for a second launch involves its partial disassembly, inspection, refurbishment, and, again, inspection. The rocket was put through a static fire test earlier this week, which involves filling it with fuel bringing the rocket engines briefly to full blast, with the rocket still secured to the ground. That the same rocket engine will be used in this launch is yet another achievement. Previously, only the space shuttle main engines were reused. (Today they are being refurbished for use in NASA’s gargantuan Space Launch System rocket.) Otherwise, like the rockets that carry them, the engines generally end up at the bottom of the ocean.

With tonight’s launch, successful or otherwise, and the attendant lessons learned every step of the way, from initial assembly through launch, refurbishment, relaunch, and landing, the company can move rapidly toward total reusability. The long term goal at SpaceX is to engineer rockets that require almost no refurbishment at all before reuse.

As for the rocket’s payload, 32 minutes after launch, it will separate from the Falcon 9 and enter a geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket, meanwhile, will begin its descent and attempt its second landing ever, on “Of Course I Still Love You,” a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. (The barge is named for a starship in the sci-fi novel The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks.) The rocket was previously flown in April 2016, for a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

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Space
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

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IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars
IKEA
IKEA

Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At NASA's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

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