SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida June 23, carrying the BulgariaSat-1 spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched a Bulgarian communications satellite June 23, a mission that marked the second time the company reused the rocket’s first stage.

The Falcon 9 carrying BulgariaSat-1 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:10 p.m. Eastern, one hour into a two-hour launch window. SpaceX said additional pre-launch ground tests prompted the delay. The spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage 35 minutes after liftoff.

The first stage landed on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean after what SpaceX cautioned would be a “super challenging” landing attempt due to the high reentry loads for this particular flight profile. Video from the drone ship cut out shortly before the landing, but was restored several seconds later, showing the stage upright, but leaning slightly, having landed slightly off-center.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the landing. He had tweeted prior to the launch that, because of the high reentry loads, there was a “good chance [the] rocket booster doesn’t make it back.”

This launch marked the second time that SpaceX has reflown a Falcon 9 first stage, after the March launch of the SES-10 satellite. The first stage for this launch first flew in January on a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites into orbit before landing on a ship offshore.

BulgariaSat selected SSL to build BulgariaSat-1 in September 2014, a deal that also included the SpaceX launch. The satellite, with an estimated mass of 4,000 kilograms, carries a total of 32 Ku-band transponders to provide fixed and broadcast satellite services and has a planned 15-year lifetime.

BulgariaSat said in May that 46 percent of the satellite’s capacity will be used by Bulsatcom, a Bulgarian telecommunications provider, in Bulgaria and Serbia. The spacecraft will operate from 1.9 degrees east in geostationary orbit, with a coverage area that includes much of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

This launch was the first in a “doubleheader” planned by SpaceX. The company is planning a launch of ten Iridium satellites on a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 4:25 p.m. Eastern June 25. That launch will use a new Falcon 9 first stage, although Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said he would be open to using previously-flown first stages for future launches if it can save time.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...