December 24, 2015

Historic Space X Rocket Landing

Falcon 9 Landing
Space X made history this week with its successful landing of the Falcon 9 first stage after boosting eleven Orbcomm satellites to orbit. 

The significance of landing and reusing rockets can not be undervalued. Once the return and reuse of rockets becomes routine and dependable--and critically--as safe and reliable as new rockets, the cost of launches will drop dramatically.
Reusability has always been the 'gold standard' for the ideal rocket. Early designs for the space shuttle offered full reusability, though the 'bean-counters' chose a cheaper hybrid design that in the long run probably cost more per launch. More than 20 years ago, the X-30 National Aerospace Plane was almost built in the 1980's to replace the shuttles with a runway-to-runway reusable spaceplane. The DC-X was another important stepping stone. Blue Origin successfully landed their rocket a few weeks ago, and now Space X brings the light of dawn to reusability.

There may be many great successes and failures to come as the technology gets perfected, but at the end of the rainbow may be reusable rockets as dependable as new ones, as is the case with airplanes. 

The stresses of spaceflight and landing may limit the number of times a rocket can be reused--the comparison with airplanes is similar, however the forces are greater and possibility of crashes due to high winds or mechanical failures will be greater for the near future. 

Lessons to be learned over the next few years will include the amount of refurbishing necessary to assure a dependable relaunch. With the space shuttles, there was a always great deal of refurbishment, so we should not expect short turnarounds with minimal work. Also, for the near future Space X will be focusing on recovering first stages, and not the second stage.  

One day, you might ride on a reused rocket system to orbit, the moon or Mars for a fraction of the price imaginable today. And perhaps one day too disreputable used rocket lots will appear on the wrong side of the tracks, offering worn out 'fixer-uppers' to the handyman astronaut or the uninformed.

Congratulations and best wishes to Space X for the perfect landing, and to all the predecessors who helped pioneer the way.

Watch Space X's great video from launch to landing:

Full Launch and Return

Landing from Helicopter

Photo and video credits: Space X

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