SpaceX made history today after they were able to successfully land a Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the ocean without incident, after the rocket propelled a Dragon vehicle into space.
SpaceX was tasked with delivering a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the ISS along with 16 flock 2d Cubesats that will join an agricultural observational constellation being developed by Planet Labs.
Before today’s events, the SpaceX team failed 4 times before after attempting to land their Falcon 9 rockets on sea platforms. They however were able to successfully land their rocket at a land-based landing pad in Cape Canaveral back in December 2015.
Even though it’s huge news for the organization, they still have to get it right a number of times again as they are attempting to reuse rockets as many as 20 times before discarding them.
So why are they re-using rockets?
A Falcon 9 rocket costs about $60+ million to manufacture and launch, while the rocket propellant costs a mere $200,000. So rather than spending a huge sum every time to make a Falcon 9 rocket and then dump it in the ocean after it’s done carrying its payload into space, SpaceX is attempting to make space flight cheaper by recovering the rocket body and reusing it as many as 20 times before scrapping it.
They also plan to reuse some of the components to build other rockets once they reach the end of their life.
With various companies pushing for space flight for the general public, SpaceX has to come up with a way to reduce costs to make their missions more affordable.
Maybe one day regular citizens…err, I mean super rich citizens can go to space at a reasonable price.
Another, but yet simpler reason, is that ocean-based landing pads can be deployed anywhere in the ocean to adjust for varying re-entry conditions unlike land-based pads which are static and cannot be shifted to facilitate a last minute change.
Even though SpaceX is currently providing Commercial Resupply Services to NASA, they hope to eventually propelled man-based vehicles in an attempt to phase in their commercial spaceflight program.
It may be a very long time before SpaceX transports humans to space, but the CRS-8 mission marks the start of more things to come.