Launch, Land, Repeat: Reusable Rocket Technology Taking Flight

December 22, 2015 – 08:58 pm
The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket attempts to land on a robotic ship after successfully launching the company's Dragon cargo capsule on April 14, 2015.

Reusable rockets aren't just a spaceflight pipe dream anymore.

SpaceX performed another high-profile rocket reusability test Tuesday (April 14) during the launch of its Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station. The first stage of the company's Falcon 9 rocket came back down to Earth and nearly pulled off a soft landing on an "autonomous spaceport drone ship" in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX also tried such a rocket landing in January, during the launch of the previous Dragon cargo mission. The Falcon 9 hit its target on that occasion as well, but came down too hard, exploding on the ship's deck.

The California-based company will keep trying until it aces the drone-ship landings, and then it will keep pushing the envelope. SpaceX eventually aims to land its rockets on the ground, near their launch pads, so they can be inspected and outfitted for re-flight with a minimum of fuss and expense.

It's all part of SpaceX's plan to slash the cost of spaceflight and open the heavens up to exploration.

"I think the implications are huge, " Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of mission assurance, said of reusable-rocket technology during a prelaunch news conference on Sunday (April 12). "In the long term, this might change completely how we approach transportation to space."

And SpaceX isn't the only company working to develop reusable launch systems. On Monday (April 13), for example, United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that its and Google+ Google+. Originally published on


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