SpaceX Rocket Landing: Dawn Of New Space Age? - InformationWeek

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12/23/2015
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SpaceX Rocket Landing: Dawn Of New Space Age?

This week, SpaceX founder Elon Musk achieved part of his goal of bringing spaceflight a little closer to home with the successful landing of the Falcon 9 rocket. Are we nearing the dawn of a new space age?

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With the celebratory exclamation "Welcome back, baby!" SpaceX founder Elon Musk took space travel one step farther into the future this week with the successful landing of its Falcon 9 rocket -- the first such feat ever achieved.

The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once. Compare that to a commercial airliner -- each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime.

While most rockets are designed to burn up on reentry, SpaceX rockets are designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad or ocean landing site for a vertical landing.

(Image: SpaceX)

(Image: SpaceX)

"If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred," Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla Motors, wrote on the SpaceX website. "A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space."

The Dec. 21 video of the successful landing shows a raucous crowd celebrating outside the control room at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, as the Falcon 9 rocket settles upright on the landing pad.

The ORBCOMM-2 mission delivered 11 satellites to low-Earth orbit for ORBCOMM, a global provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

The mission marked SpaceX's first attempt to land a first stage on land, though the landing of the first stage was considered a secondary test objective.

The objective of reusable rockets is to lower the across-the-board costs for space flight, which could result a series of developments including new types of space ventures, including commercial flights and space tourism.

"With lower costs and competition, prices could fall, stimulating demand for more access to space," Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said in an interview with NBC News. "The next step is to see how much it costs and how long it takes to refurbish the recovered stage and fly it again."

Farther in the future, these types of reusable rocket technologies could help drive down costs low enough to make a mission to Mars -- something Musk has stressed the importance of -- a more financially feasible goal.

[Read more about SpaceX.]

"This is a critical step along the way toward being able to establish a city on Mars," Musk told reporters following the landing. "That's what all this is about."

In an interview with Ars Technica, Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an advocate of commercial human spaceflight, said the successful landing upon reentry will have broad implications for the space flight industry.

"It makes you rethink the way we do business," Stallmer said "That's the bottom line. Is there a better way to do spaceflight? It used to be if, or when, we could reuse rockets. But now we've crossed off the 'if,' and the 'when.' It changes the way the industry is going to do business."

Musk is not the only tech mogul who is looking to harness the power of spaceflight. In September, Amazon's Jess Bezos announced Blue Origin, his plan to manufacture and launch rockets in Florida.

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Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2015 | 11:13:44 AM
What shape was it in?
It's huge that they brought back the rocket successfully. But is it in any way able to be used again? I'd love to know how useable the rocket really is at this point. Would it need a 20% overhaul or 80%? (And how nervous are the people going to be that first reuse a rocket?) I look forward to seeing what comes of this. Perhaps by the time my kids are grown they can book a flight to the moon for vacation.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2015 | 5:59:39 PM
Re: What shape was it in?
This is the most exciting thing that has happened in the space effort in years. I, too, hope that the rocket will be able to be reused in its entirety, but even if it can't, SpaceX has at least got the ball rolling. Any way you look at it, a titanic first step.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2015 | 8:19:24 PM
Re: What shape was it in?
I agree.  For most of the history of space exploration, government agencies have been the main source of technology, and thus set the pace for space travel.  Now with independent agencies such as SpaceX, the possibilities of future travel become way more exciting.  Even if they are only partially reusable, the cost savings could be used to fund other projects or or lower the overall cost.  

I can't wait to see what the next decade of space exploration brings!
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2015 | 8:35:54 PM
success
Whether is SpaceX , Blue Origin or someone else, we need the success of these programs, unless we want to rely on the Soyuz rockets for ever.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
12/24/2015 | 10:21:21 AM
Congratulations to Mr. Musk
If commercial space travel is ever to be more than a libertarian fantasy, then these are the sorts of experiments that need to succeed.

But he he will also need to round up some real live private customers instead of relying on government contracts.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
12/24/2015 | 11:05:27 AM
Re: Congratulations to Mr. Musk
That's where things like Blue Origin can really help. While the Amazon rocket can take people to the edge of 'space' really cheaply, it will allow more people to try it and get a buzz for going into space. Give it a few years, with successful re-uses of the Falcon 9 under its belt, and Space X will be able to offer trips up for less than a million dollars. 
MatthewO028
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MatthewO028,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/24/2015 | 6:27:28 PM
SpaceX Rocket landing
The cheering crowd was SpaceX Employees at their Hawthorne, California facility, not the Cape.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
12/25/2015 | 3:59:09 AM
Re: Congratulations to Mr. Musk
Private customers, as yet, have no non-trivial way to make all that much money in space, and so the main customer has to remain the gov't and the military for now. But, what if Musk is even close to right and the cost of shipping a pound of cargo into space goes down by anything close to a factor of a hundred? Then who knows what might be possible!
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/25/2015 | 10:50:51 PM
Re: Congratulations to Mr. Musk
If space tourism is what pays the bills for what Musk is really after --- space colonization --- then let's hope it goes down to a cost where most people in the top 1 to 10 percent of America can take a spin. That would subsidize many of the rest of us when we need to find a new home in the galaxy after Earth goes to hell.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
12/26/2015 | 9:22:20 PM
Re: What shape was it in?
Good point. Economics is required to make history on a budget. Deploying 11 satellites for specific M2M communication is a massive mission in its own right. If we take into consideration that there are around 1,100 working satellites in space at the moment then, 11 additional satellites is a major addition. As a bonus, the landing will enable future deployments to cost less.

I wonder if ORBCOMM has provided additional information about the capabilities that the new satellite fleet will enable.
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