The most expensive part of doing business in outer space is getting there. The private space flight company SpaceX thinks it can change all that, and Thursday's successful reuse of a rocket was a big test of its business model.
SpaceX launched a communications satellite from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a rocket stage that had already been to space and back. SpaceX is betting that this kind of recycling will lower its costs and revolutionize space flight.
The rocket landed vertically on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean a few minutes after the launch.
The aerospace industry essentially has been throwing away its hefty rockets. Partway into orbit, the big, expensive first stage falls off and plunges back to Earth.
It's a unique business model within the transportation sector, says Bobby Braun, the dean of the College of Engineering and Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He says to see how strange it is, imagine flying from Denver to Washington, D.C.: "When I got there, the airline wouldn't throw away that airplane and put me on a new one to bring me back a few days later," he says.