The SpaceX The Falcon 9 rocket that just launched an Israeli moon lander will make some more history soon
The Thursday Night (Feb. of the Beresheet lunar lander – which in April will be the first privately funded craft to touch down the moon – and two other satellites was the third spaceflight for this particular Falcon 9's first stage. The new booster will come back to Earth for another landing Thursday and will be prepped for a fourth mission, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said
"Burning metal sparks from base heat shield visible in landing video. Fourth relight scheduled for April, " Musk tweeted Thursday night .
Related: Launch Photos: SpaceX Lofts Israeli Moon Lander, Satellites
Highest reentry heating to date. Burning metal sparks from the base heat shield visible in landing video. Fourth relight scheduled for April. https://t.co/uq6TdMhgFNFebruary 22,2019
In subsequent tweets, Musk clarified that "fourth relight" meant the fourth launch for this particular booster. That will be a first; no Falcon 9 first stage has still flown more than three times.
The April mission in question is the high-altitude abortion test for SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule, which is developing to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Crew Dragon is scheduled to fly for the first time on March 2, when it will launch on a uncrewed test mission to the ISS called Demo-1 .
The uncrewed abort test will take that same capsule up into the sky, then press its SuperDraco escape engines into service. The aim is to show that Crew Dragon can get astronauts out of harm's way in the event of a launch emergency.
Related: How to Watch Spacecraft's Dragon Demon-1 Test Flight Live  NASA officials have said the abort test is planned for June but it should not be surprising that Musk thinks it can happen two months sooner than that.
When the abort test takes place, it will probably be the last mission for the record-setting Falcon 9 first stage
"High probability of this particular rocket getting destroyed by the Dragon supersonic abort test, otherwise, at least 20 or 30 missions for Falcon 9. Starship will take over before the F9 fleet reaches the end of life, " Musk tweeted .
Starship is the reusable spacecraft SpaceX is developing to take people to and from Mars and other distant destinations and – with the help of a gigantic, reusable rocket called Super Heavy – perform every other task the company needs done.
The Starship-Super Heavy Duo could launch people to Mars for the first time in the mid-2020s if development goes well, Musk has said
If Demo-1 and the Abort Test Go Well, SpaceX could launch astronauts to ISS for the first time as early as July, NASA officials have said. That mission will still be a test flight, known as Demo-2. Operational, contracted ISS missions would begin after the successful completion of Demo-2.
Aerospace giant Boeing is developing his own astronaut taxi under a similar deal with NASA. Boeing's craft, a capsule called the CST-100 Starliner, is scheduled to fly its first space mission, an uncrewed test flight to ISS similar to Demo-1, not earlier than April
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate ) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .