For the 18th time this year, SpaceX has successfully launched to space.
After lifting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center along the Florida coast at 3:46 p.m. on Thursday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivered a communications satellite, Es’hail-2, into orbit for its latest customer, the nation of Qatar.
About 10 minutes later, the rocket booster — which contains nine expensive, SpaceX-made Merlin engines — descended through the atmosphere and landed in the Atlantic Ocean on the Elon Musk-named droneship “Of Course I Still Love You.”
This marks the booster’s second trip to space and back again. It’s also the 31st time the company has managed to land a rocket back on Earth after flying to space.
In 2017, the space company launched 18 times — including missions for NASA and private satellites. Its customers have grown quite diverse, ranging from the U.S. Air Force to nations like Bulgaria, Korea, and Qatar.
Most of these launches now result in successful returns of the Falcon 9 rocket boosters, an incredible feat considering that SpaceX had plenty of difficulty landing its first Falcon 9 on a drone ship.
Reusability is integral to SpaceX’s business plan, which makes launching rockets significantly cheaper than rebuilding everything from scratch, and wasting engines after a single use.
Speaking at a space conference about a refurbished SpaceX rocket, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell recently said that “it was substantially less than half” the cost of building a new rocket booster.
When a customer like Qatar orders a Falcon 9 rocket launch from SpaceX, they currently pay about $62 million, according to the company’s recent estimates. Space analysts have musedthat using refurbished rockets could lower this launch price by some $20 million — or more.
SpaceX has five more Falcon 9 rocket launches on the docket for 2018, which would bring its total to a SpaceX-record 22 for the year, if they pull it off.
Nex year, however, looks to be an especially bold year for SpaceX. In early 2019, SpaceX plans to launch a demo of its Crew Dragon spacecraft. If successful, NASA plans to send astronauts into space aboard the Dragon capsule later in 2019.