Aleksandar (Alex) Vakanski


Reusable Rockets

-- posted September 2016 --

The idea behind reusable rockets is to recover the ultra-expensive rocket boosters used for launching spacecrafts, and afterwards to refuel and reuse them for space flights.

The main proponent of the idea is SpaceX, a privately funded company established in 2002 and owned by the luminary entrepreneur Elon Musk. In fact, the initial objective of Musk was, and it still is, human colonization of Mars. Among the obstacles toward that objective is the prohibitively high cost of space travel: thus one sub-objective that emerged is the significant decrease in launch expenses via a technological breakthrough related to reusing rockets. Rockets are currently destroyed after launching, by being burned up during reentry in the atmosphere.

SpaceX has since raised funds from different sources and has designed and built a spacecraft named Dragon and a series of launch vehicles Falcon. The Dragon spacecraft is flown into orbit by the Falcon launch vehicles, and they are both reusable. Based on a contract awarded by NASA for cargo resupply to the International Space Station, SpaceX has so far flown the Dragon space capsule nine times to the ISS to deliver supplies.

The company began working on the development of reusable launch system technology in 2011. Several unsuccessful attempts were followed by a successful autonomous vertical landing and recovery of the first stage of Falcon 9 rocket on a ground pad in 2015, and two successful vertical recoveries of the first stage of Falcon 9 on an ocean drone-ship landing platform in 2016. The reuse of the first-stage rocket booster on a new mission for the first time is scheduled for October 2016.

The current cost for launching a spacecraft into a low Earth orbit is about US$65 to 80 million. SpaceX believes that if reusable rocket technology is successfully implemented the launch cost can be reduced by an order of magnitude to about US$5 to 7 million.

SpaceX’s plans about the colonization of Mars are to first send an unmanned shuttle with a cargo delivery in 2018, then afterwards to send cargo every two years and establish a base, and finally the first humans to arrive on Mars in 2025 after a launch in 2024. Yes. Another interesting project that SpaceX is working on is launching a constellation of 4,000 satellites to provide internet access to every corner of Earth.

Another company that is involved in development of reusable rockets is Blue Origin. The company has also successfully landed a rocket four times since 2015. Their space vehicle is called New Shepard. Blue Origin is founded by another billionaire - Jeff Bezos, of course, better known as the owner of the behemoth Amazon. Blue Origin intends to focus on commercial space tourism.

The following 3:50 minutes video provides a brief introduction to the concept of reusable rockets:

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Elon Musk (owner of SpaceX): “I would like to die on Mars, just not on impact.”