DUCK YES! SpaceX landed their first Falcon 9 today after it successfully deployed its payload to orbit. This is big news, and to quote Andy Weir:
Imagine if you took a flight from New York to London. And then, when you were done, they threw the plane away. Want to go back? Well, they’ll have to make a new plane. Imagine what air travel tickets would cost if the airline industry worked that way. Well, that’s exactly how the space industry works.
Or at least, that’s how it used to work. Until today. :)
Andy’s pretty good at explanations, but at this point at least one of you would be thinking “but what about the Space Shuttle? That was reusable!”
And you’re right, the orbiter was reusable, that was its primary role. The boosters were reusable, they were dropped in the atmosphere and had parachutes, but they’d land in the ocean and require a bunch of cleaning up first. The external tank was not reusable, it was jettisoned in space and would break up in the atmosphere.
The Space Shuttle was also breathtakingly expensive. It cost $450 million to $1.5 billion dollars per launch. The system from SpaceX, the Falcon 9, costs a mere $61.2 million per launch, and it has a comparable payload to the Space Shuttle.. In terms of putting things into space, it’s cheap.
And here’s why a successful Falcon 9 landing is such a huge step-forward. It’s a system that can return itself from orbit and land on a pad by itself. Rather than having to build a new rocket every time, or clean and test something that’s landed in the ocean (salt-water is not good for spacecraft), you instead have something you can test, service, and re-use.
It should be noted that it’s just the first (lower) stage which is able to self-land at the moment. The second stage (which delivers the payload) isn’t re-usable yet, but that’s the next step, and I’m quite certain we’ll see it self-landing before long.
Having both stages be able to land themselves means we’d see that $61.2m launch cost drop to an estimated $5–7m, which is pretty friggin’ amazing. It could be even less; the cost of fuel is only 0.3% of the vehicle costs.
I really can’t express how amazed I am by this. We’d be looking at being able to do HUNDREDS of launches for the same price as a single Space Shuttle launch.
Bravo, SpaceX, you rock!
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