SpaceX signs first customer for used Falcon rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Elon Musk’s SpaceX has signed its first customer to use a previously flown rocket, with launch planned for later this year, the companies said on Tuesday.

The recovered first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is transported to the SpaceX hangar at launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

The launch for Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES SA SESFg.LU will mark the first commercial reuse of a Falcon 9 rocket, which is crucial to efforts by technology entrepreneur Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp to reduce the cost of space launches.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell previously said the company was targeting a 30 percent discount for launches aboard previously flown rockets, which would bring the price down to about $43 million per flight, a fraction of what competitors charge.

SpaceX has so far landed six Falcon 9 rockets and will attempt to land its seventh after Saturday’s scheduled launch in Florida of an Israeli communications satellite.

“We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” Martin Halliwell, SES chief technology officer, said in a statement.

SES, which in 2013 became SpaceX’s first commercial customer, plans to launch its SES-10 communications satellite on a used Falcon 9 rocket in late 2016.

The rocket previously flew in April to send a cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station for NASA, said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” Shotwell said in the statement.

Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of slashing launch costs to make travel to Mars affordable. The company plans to fly its first unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2018 and send humans to Mars as early as 2024.

Musk is expected to unveil details of his Mars program at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, next month.

SpaceX’s major competitors are United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and Europe’s Arianespace.

Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Alistair Bell