Elon Musk's private rocket company, SpaceX, is attempting to revolutionize space travel (and how much it costs) by landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back on the Earth safely. From space. Upright. Onto a floating ocean barge.
This way, the rocket can then be refueled and used again right away. At least that's how it's supposed to work.
Accomplishing crazy new things usually means getting it wrong a few times first. Following a previous upright landing attempt in January that ended in a crash landing, SpaceX attemped an upright ocean landing once again yesterday. Unfortunately, as with the previous effort, this one didn't quite go off according to plan either. As Musk tweeted:— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
And there's even some footage of the close-but-no-cigar landing:
The Next Steps
If the SpaceX team is able to perfect this reduce, reuse, and recycle method (let's go positive and say once SpaceX perfects this method), it will change how humanity gets to space.
Sending stuff (be it cargo, robots, or humans) into space is an expensive endeavor that has—until quite recently—been the sole purview of first-world nations. Much of this colossal cost is associated with building the giant, first-stage rockets, which have traditionally been treated as disposable, one-and-done deals. After punching a hole in the sky, they fall back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. By design. Every new space mission meant constructing whole new rockets from scratch. And that can get super expensive.
SpaceX hopes to re-work this costly and wasteful system by creating a first-stage rocket that will return to Earth safely in one piece, thus making it reusable in short order. And making the price of a ticket to space far more approachable.
But first the methodology has to be perfected. Last year, SpaceX successfully demonstrated the ability to land a rocket upright into the ocean. This year, the company is attempting to land the rocket upright on a gigantic floating unmanned barge. Eventually, the company hopes to land the rockets back near the land-based launchpad from which it came.
But this latest crash actually seems to have turned out a lot better (i.e. less explode-y) than the previous crash landing attempt in January, which caused this (actually very cool) footage:
The company has vowed to make numerous attempts at getting the upright landing right before the end of the year. A post on the official SpaceX blog says "SpaceX's next landing and recovery attempt will occur during the CRS-7 mission, currently targeted for June 2015." If it happens, Musk has some big plans (see below). Good luck, space people!
If this works, I'm treating myself to a volcano lair. It's time.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
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