On April 8th – two weeks ago, SpaceX landed the Falcon 9 rocket on their drone ship out at sea. This is a huge landmark in space travel – probably bigger than anything since the moon landings. It is worth watching the video also – this was no benign bit of sea either (OK so its not the North Sea in winter), but there is clearly some swell and some strong cross-wind… (obviously this is not an easy exercise)
But why all the hyperbole about this landing – after all the space shuttle landed many times?
The difference here is that the space shuttle was essentially just the flight capsule, the rocket that got it into space was jettisoned and burnt up in the atmosphere. And guess what? The most expensive part of a rocket launch is the engine.
used without permission from quota.com
The best way to understand the importance of this is beautifully described in the excellent Wait, But Why? blog here. If you can’t be bothered to read it (it is long…. but really really worth it… did I mention how good it is?) – the author Tim Urban has kindly read it for you in a compelling podcast. Either way, it is not to be missed…
And here is the extract on why reusability is so key to the future of space travel.
“Imagine the current air travel industry with one key difference: an airplane works for one flight only. Each flight is on a brand new plane, and after the flight, passengers exit into the terminal and the plane is broken down into scrap metal and possibly-reusable parts that are sent off to be refurbished for use in a future plane.
An airplane costs around $300 million to build. So in this new model, in addition to paying for the crew’s time and fuel, airlines have to spend $300 million extra each flight to build a plane. How would that change things?
First, there would be very few flights available—the schedule would be limited by the pace of plane production. Second, the price of a round-trip ticket between Chicago and San Francisco would now cost about $1.5 million per person. For economy.
Air Force One would still exist. Wealthy countries would have a small military air fleet. A few governments would fly in order to perform certain types of science experiments. People with 10 billion dollars would probably fly a decent amount, but people with only one billion dollars couldn’t really afford it. And you? You would be born, live your life, and die without ever riding on a plane.
If this were the situation, people would probably look at the non-existent air travel industry and determine that clearly, there was no public will to travel by air. Politicians would argue against putting much government funding into the exorbitant activity. Most people wouldn’t even fully understand how airplanes worked, and they wouldn’t waste any time imagining what the world would be like if everyone could use them. It would become a non-topic. We’d travel by car and railroad and ship and that would be that.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
No one in history—not the US, not the Soviets, and certainly not the stagnant fat cats at ULA—has figured out how to make rockets reusable. Rockets spend months getting built, head up to space, and either burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean as scrap metal. It’s not that no one has tried—the US and Soviets have both put tens of billions of dollars into the problem—it’s that no one has figured it out.”
Until now that is….
The above blog was written in Summer 2015. Space X has now landed a rocket and is in the process of refurbishing it for its second launch. How hard this will be no one knows, but the first huge step has been made. The relaunch of the FalconX will be another great step for mankind.
Don’t miss it. Because the bigger subsequent step is this…