U.S. News


SpaceX Lands First Reusable Rocket Boosters

The innovation could cut space flight costs by nearly $200 million and lead to more commercial space ventures.
Posted at 7:02 PM, Apr 25, 2014

​From PayPal to Tesla, electric cars to the hyperloop, you can always find billionaire Elon Musk at the forefront of technology. And Friday his company SpaceX announced it had successfully pulled off the first-ever "soft-landing" of reusable space entry rocket boosters.

In a press conference with reporters, Musk confirmed what he'd live-tweeted late last week: SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable rocket boosters had touched down safely in the Atlantic after the rocket blasted off for the International Space Station last week.

And despite the actual boosters being lost due to stormy seas, Musk reiterated the event's significance. "What SpaceX has done thus far is evolutionary, not revolutionary. If we can recover the booster stage, the chance is there for revolutionary." (Via Mashable)

The theory behind Musk's plan is simple. Since rocket boosters usually burn off and disintegrate during launch, nearly $200 million is spent building new ones for the next launch.

According to the MIT Technology Review, that's unsustainable and "the equivalent of building a new aircraft for every transatlantic flight."

Earlier this month, the company released a video showing the Falcon 9 in action, launching and landing smoothly thanks to legs built onto the rocket.

SpaceX's model would reportedly be ready to reuse two months after ocean recovery, and its end goal of landing the boosters on solid land would have the jets ready to reuse the next day.

But back to cost: SpaceX already offers space flights for between $50 and $100 million, nearly a third of the cost of its nearest competitor. Already partnering with NASA for over a dozen cargo flights, SpaceX hopes to cut its prices even more with reusable boosters.

As a research firm analyst tells the MIT Technology Review, "Reusability has been the Holy Grail of the launch industry for decades."

This was the original intent of the Space Shuttle before it was decommissioned in 2011, determined to be even more expensive than expendable rockets.  

With SpaceX, Musk says his ultimate goal is to colonize Mars, but in the meantime, the company hopes to launch a recovered booster as early as next year.