Late Summer launch of Spacex Falcon Heavy could land all three first stage boosters, second stage and payload faring

Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Thursday salvaged half of the $6 million nosecone of its rocket, in what the space entrepreneur deemed an important feat in the drive to recover more of its launch hardware and cut the cost of space flights. This was part of the successful relaunch and landing of the first stage.

Shortly after the main section of SpaceX’s first recycled Falcon 9 booster landed itself on a platform in the ocean, half of the rocket’s nosecone, which protected a communications satellite during launch, splashed down via parachute nearby.

“That was the cherry on the cake,” Musk, who serves as chief executive and lead designer of Space Exploration Technologies, told reporters after launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Measuring 43 feet (13 meters) long and 17 feet (5 meters) in diameter, the nosecone is big enough to hold a school bus. It separates into two pieces, exposing the satellite, about 4 minutes after liftoff.

As a test, SpaceX outfitted the fairing with thrusters and a steerable parachute.

“It’s its own little spacecraft,” Musk said. “The thrusters maintain its orientation as it re-enters and then … the parachute steers it to a particular location.”

The Falcon Heavy launch is planned for the late summer. They will try to land all three first stages, the maybe second stage and the payload faring.

Elon Musk aspires to relaunch with zero hardware changes and have reflight in 24 hours. The only thing that changes is Spacex reloads propellant. SpaceX could reach the zero hardware change point within 12 months.

They estimate that with only refueling and a quick inspection between launches, a Falcon 9 could be flown about 10 times. With some refurbishment between launches, it could see 100 launches or more.

The rocket’s grid fins, which help stabilize and control direction during descent, see some of the heaviest damage. Spacex is working on a new design and titanium-based alloy that will better stand up to the stresses of reentry.