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Watch: SpaceX is launching a reused rocket, hoping to prove spaceflight can get cheaper

A small step toward more affordable spaceflight.

Eleventh Commercial Resupply Services Mission
A Falcon 9 rocket launching on June 3, 2017.
Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images
Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

One of the biggest problems with space travel is that it’s freaking expensive. In the past, it has cost around $10,000 to send a single pound of material into space. If humans are ever going to become a spacefaring species, with colonies on the moon and Mars — as big thinkers like physicist Stephen Hawking insist we should — space travel is going to have to get a lot cheaper.

"We have to figure out how to improve the cost [of traveling to Mars] by 5 million percent," Elon Musk said last year, announcing his personal dream to establish a human colony on Mars. "This is not easy."

It’s not easy, but Musk is taking baby steps. And you can watch one of those baby steps via live stream today.

Around 2 pm Eastern, Musk’s company SpaceX is planning to launch a Bulgarian TV satellite into space from Cape Canaveral. (The launch window is two hours long, so it could happen closer to 4 pm. The live stream begins at 2.) Here’s what’s remarkable: The Falcon 9 rocket it will be hitching a ride on has been used before. The rocket was previously used in January to launch an array of satellites. When the 14-story rocket booster had finished its task, it fell back to Earth and landed neatly on a ship in the Pacific Ocean.

If the launch today is successful, it will mark the second time SpaceX has reused a Falcon 9 rocket, and will place another paver stone on the road to a future in which spaceflight is more affordable.

SpaceX still charges around $60 million to companies to use its Falcon 9s, The Verge’s Loren Grush explains. But in the future, the company told Grush, “customers that fly on a used Falcon 9 could eventually get discounts of up to 30 percent.”

This future of (relatively) cheaper spaceflight is still far from certain. The company has a spotted history of successfully landing its spent rockets (and it will try to land this reused one on a platform in the Pacific.) And refurbishing costs for the rockets may stand in the way of truly affordable spaceflight. As you’ll recall, NASA designed the space shuttle program for reuse, but it didn’t save much money.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today we can live-stream a rocket blasting off into space. That’s pretty cool all on its own.