5 Ways Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 Could Change Spaceflight
We are just a couple days removed from the first successful flight and landing of a rocket made by SpaceX, the brain-child of innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk. It was the first successful landings after several highly publicized failures, including a botched landing on a barge in the ocean. While you could hear the shouts of joy from the Falcon 9 control room, the real benefits of this achievement are still to come. Here’s why. Bringing Down Costs The completion of its mission is a huge step for SpaceX in providing high-volume missions. The Falcon costs $60 million, and carried nine satellites, but each mission has a cost of only $200,000. Musk claims that as the missions increase, costs could reduce “by a factor of 100.” Considering that NASA has long had budgetary constraints, a low-cost payload delivery system is one step towards expanding the agency’s mission. RELATED: Consumer Comparison- Dragon v2 Spaceship vs Tesla Model S
Going to space not only costs money, but it takes abundant resources. The precious metals for key components and all manner carbon fiber, titanium, gold, and other parts that are necessary to build a rocket require a great deal of effort to produce. A reusable rocket will require routine maintenance and many parts will need replacement after each flight, but using the same rocket significantly reduces the pull on valuable resources.
There will also be less components and sections floating around in low earth orbit, burning up in the atmosphere, or crashing back to terra firma or the ocean. That said, burning a rocket engine upon reentry for the upright landing procedure performed by Falcon 9 must certainly have its outstanding carbon footprint. It is a matter of weighing environmental costs, and the true cost remains to be seen.
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Following the shuttering of the Space Shuttle program, astronauts headed to the International Space Station had to do so via a Soyuz capsule. Once SpaceX has a proven track record of successful cargo deployment and satellite deployment missions, it could very well be approved for transporting humans to the ISS. In addition to the obvious optics of Americans traveling on an American spacecraft rather than a Russian one, the Soyuz craft is apparently a harrowing ride.
Upon reentry, components on the craft burn off and disintegrate, and before landing, a parachute deploys and retro-rockets fire, but the craft descends over land, rather than water. The landing has been described as “feeling like a car wreck.” It will be nice to throttle down land land back in the ‘States.
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One Step Closer to Mars
Elon Musk has ambitions that go far beyond providing a reliable freighter to space. The tech visionary has his eyes set well beyond low earth orbit and even beyond going back to the Moon. Musk has stated on multiple occasions that he wants man to go to Mars. The red planet is a long way off, but the only way we’ll get there is by lowering costs. Falcon 9 is the first major step to making leaving out atmosphere a more routine occurrence from a cost perspective. NASA is aiming to a mission to Mars by 2035, but Musk claims he can get a mission off the ground within the next 9 to 11 years.
Beating Bezos Following the successful landing, Jeff Bezos tweeted at Elon Musk, “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!” It is true that while SpaceX has spent months unable to pull off a successful landing, Bezos’ company Blue Origin managed to make a successful launch and landing last month. But Bezos’ craft was much smaller and did not fly nearly as high was the the Falcon 9 craft. While Blue Origin’s “New Shepard” orbital system only flew 100.5 km and had no payload that was mentioned, the Falcon 9 can carry almost 30,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, and 10,000 pounds to geostationary orbit. The success of the Falcon 9 is a much stronger move towards low-cost spaceflight on a grander scale.
Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 22, 2015