File image: IOL.

INTERNATIONAL – SpaceX has matched last year’s total for successful launches, giving Elon Musk’s rocket company weeks to spare to set a new annual record for missions.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at about 3:46 p.m. local time Thursday. 

The rocket’s first stage, which previously flew in July, re-landed again on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. A Qatari satellite deployed roughly 32 minutes after liftoff.

Recovering the rocket’s first stage is part of Space Exploration Technologies's strategy to reduce launch costs and win market share. The company already has recovered rocket boosters several times, both on land and on drone ships at sea.

Qatar’s Es’hail-2 satellite will connect amateur radio users from Brazil to Thailand and will assist with broadcast and broadband connectivity to Qatar and neighbouring countries, according to a Kennedy Space Center website.

Musk, 47, is the chief executive officer, chairman and largest shareholder of SpaceX, which is working with banks on arranging a $750 million loan, according to people familiar with the matter. 

The closely held company’s valuation has climbed to about $28 billion (R398 bn) as it’s racked up successful launches, making it the third-most valuable venture-backed startup in the US after Uber and Airbnb. 


SpaceX has a contract to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station as part of what’s known as the Commercial Crew program with NASA, but the timeline for the first flights has slipped repeatedly. 

The agency’s latest schedule has SpaceX’s first demonstration flight slated for January and the first flight with astronauts on board planned for June.

Bloomberg