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The competition heats up: Commercial satellite company SES has requested SpaceX that one of its satellites be the first to be launched with a recovered Falcon 9 first stage.
SES has seven satellites under construction, five of which are contracted for SpaceX launches, starting with SES-9. SES said it has been given a guarantee by SpaceX that the launch will occur no later than September. SES has agreed to allow SES-9 to be the first launch using an upgraded Falcon 9 main-stage Merlin 1D engine, whose performance is being increased to allow SpaceX to attempt first-stage recovery even on launches to geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most telecommunications satellites.
Just as it secured an attractive SpaceX price for the SES-8 by being one of the first established customers, SES now wants a cut-rate price on a Falcon 9 with a previously used first stage. “Our launch vehicle for SES-9 will be a recoverable vehicle,” Halliwell said. “We believe they will be able to recover it on this mission. We actually asked them: If we do recover it, can we use it again and get a good price discount? We’re still in discussions.”
In other words, if SpaceX is successful in landing the first stage after it puts SES-9 into orbit in September, they want first dibs, at a good price, of using that stage on a future SES launch.
SES’s willingness to do this changes my estimated time frame for the first successful reuse of a first stage. I had assumed that the commercial satellite companies would all be reluctant to put one of their payloads on a rocket using a recovered first stage, until they had seen at least one test flight of such a stage. SES proves this assumption wrong, to my delight.