SpaceX recently launched a rocket to deliver a satellite into orbit and then returned that rocket to a specified landing place, upright. It’s a first for the company, and more importantly, for aerospace in general. More specifically, they returned a rocket booster, a part not generally associated with reusability.
The rocket completed its mission on December 21st, 2015, and has since been returned to a hanger in Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket proved that SpaceX’s designs are on the right track, and another launch and return mission could take place as early as February 2016. That launch will feature a different booster. Although the booster launched last month did not sustain any damage during its mission, the company has decided to retire it as a fitting homage to its significance. After all, it represents a significant advancement in aerospace technology.
While this news might not excite people who aren’t space buffs, it is pretty significant. SpaceX is developing reusable boosters to save both time and money on launches. After NASA concluded their space shuttle program, they turned to SpaceX to carry astronauts to space for them. Those missions haven’t started yet, as SpaceX is still working their system, so NASA crew are currently hitching rides with the Russians.
But once SpaceX is flying manned missions for NASA, they’ll be pretty busy. They already do a number of unmanned flights for the agency, and they recently bid to launch satellites for the Pentagon. They’ve been a pretty successful company for one which came to the aerospace industry so recently.
And with all those flights, they need to keep them cheap in order to stay competitive. “Cheap” here is relative, as space flight is a pretty expensive gig no matter what, but making rockets reusable will cut costs significantly. And knowing SpaceX, those savings will be invested in even more technology.