Good things came in threes for SpaceX today: For the third time, it used a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket booster to send a payload into space, and had that booster land itself on an oceangoing platform.
Successful recovery of the first-stage booster after launching the Echostar 105/SES-11 telecommunications satellite could even set the double-flown stage for a third go-round.
It was the second Falcon 9 liftoff this week, coming after a launch from California on Monday that successfully put 10 Iridium Next telecom satellites in orbit.
Today’s flight was similarly successful, starting with the 6:53 p.m. ET (3:53 p.m. PT) launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The rocket went through stage separation minutes into its ascent — and in what has now become a well-worn routine, the second stage blasted onward into orbit while the first stage went through a series of autonomous maneuvers to fly itself to its landing spot.
In this case, the landing spot was the deck of an autonomous drone ship named “Of Course I Still Love You,” stationed hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the video feed from the robotic ship hiccuped for a bit, the camera eventually showed the booster standing tall on the ship and sputtering flames, sparking cheers from SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
After reaching orbit, the second stage fired its rocket engine to maneuver into the proper orbit for deployment of the Echostar 105/SES-11 satellite.
The hybrid satellite is designed to operate from geostationary orbit over North America for 15 years. It’ll provide Ku-band communication services through EchoStar for commercial and U.S. government customers, as well as high-definition and ultra-high-def video service through SES in the C-band part of the spectrum.
The booster that was used today first flew in February, when it helped send a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station. After the booster landed, it was refurbished at SpaceX’s Florida facility.
Rocket reusability is part of SpaceX’s strategy for dramatically reducing the cost of access to space. Last month, SpaceX billionaire founder Elon Musk announced plans to build a fully reusable BFR (“Big Falcon Rocket”) that could facilitate passenger trips around the world and to the moon and Mars.