Miami (AFP) – SpaceX carried out the 50th launch of its signature Falcon 9 rocket early Tuesday, a swift ascent to a milestone which many aerospace giants take far longer to attain.
The launch of the Falcon 9 carrying a Hispasat Spanish-language telecommunications and broadband satellite took place on schedule at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
About 33 minutes into the flight, the satellite was deployed into geo-stationary orbit, SpaceX said in a webcast.
The satellite weighs six tonnes and is almost the size of a city bus, making it the largest geostationary satellite that SpaceX has taken into space.
The satellite aims to expand television, broadband and telecommunications service in Europe and Northwest Africa.
The Falcon 9 first flew in 2010, and since then has become the California-based company’s workhorse for sending supplies to the International Space Station, as well as launching both commercial satellites and secretive government payloads.
Powered by nine Merlin engines, the Falcon 9’s first stage has also mastered the art of landing upright on solid ground or on floating platforms in the ocean after launch.
These “recycled” rocket launches are part of SpaceX’s goal to cut the cost of space flight and re-use expensive rocket parts instead of tossing them in the ocean after each launch.
But SpaceX did not attempt to land Falcon 9’s booster Tuesday due to unfavorable weather in the recovery area off Florida’s Atlantic coast, said a company statement.
According to the website ArsTechnica, SpaceX’s 50 launches are “double the maximum number of flights the Atlas V (2014 and 2015) and space shuttle (1985) performed during their most prolific years.”
Elon Musk’s grand visions for space exploration include sending tourists into orbit around the Moon and eventually colonizing Mars.
Last month SpaceX launched its monster Falcon Heavy rocket — three times as powerful as the Falcon 9 — for the first time, propelling Musk’s own Tesla roadster with a spacesuit-clad dummy at the wheel into orbit near Mars.