Behold the words of SpaceX founder Elon Musk, offering a post-op summary of the fiery crash-landing of one of his company’s first stage rocket boosters aboard a floating barge in the Atlantic earlier this month. It smacked of the billionaire entrepreneur’s typical comedic understatement. Video accompanying the comment, delivered in a tweet, shows the rocket coming in too fast and too steep before exploding in a magnificent fireball. It was a far cry from the soft landing Musk and SpaceX had planned.
Most of the press called it a failure. Musk called it “close.” Experts familiar with the commercial spaceflight industry are calling it what it is: evidence that 2015 will be the year SpaceX manages to successfully bring a first stage rocket booster and its nine rocket engines safely back to Earth for reuse, potentially cutting the cost of space launch in half and upending the commercial launch industry.
But lost in the whiz-bang awesomeness of rocket launches (and crashes) is the way SpaceX’s reusable rocket technology could impact industries beyond those associated with space, such as telecommunications and imaging. The cost of space access could drop from its current range of between $65 million and $70 million to something more like $30 million, or even $20 million, putting it within reach of companies and industries that couldn’t consider it before.
“When launch costs drop, new customers will emerge, ” says Dick “Rocket” David, CEO of space industry information provider NewSpace Global. “But most of the customers that will be interested don’t even realize today what impact access to space will have on their business models.”
SpaceX wanted to bring its first stage booster back to Earth for a simple reason: the rocket boosters that are typically jettisoned after their fuel runs out cost millions of dollars to develop and manufacture. If the company can return a stage to Earth intact for refurbishment and reuse, it can dramatically reduce what has long been considered a cost of doing business.
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