On the evening of March 30th, 2017, SpaceX relaunched a used Falcon 9 rocket for the first time. The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the purpose of launching its payload, a communications satellite into orbit. It may not have seemed like anything special to someone without background info, but this is a truly groundbreaking step in the world of aerospace. No one could have said it better than the man behind the magic, Elon Musk himself: “This is a huge day,” he said after the Falcon took off from Kennedy Space Center. “My mind is blown, frankly.” This same Falcon 9 rocket booster had already been launched and landed in April of last year.
Everyone’s excitement about SpaceX’s innovations is justified. Before SpaceX proved that Falcon 9 boosters could be reused, it took upwards of $60 million to launch a single rocket into space. This incredibly high price tag made it very difficult for companies to launch satellites into space, an essential step creating a more internet connected global community. But with the reuse of rockets, launch prices have been decreased to $40 million. The price drop comes from the reuse of the orbital class booster, the most expensive part of the rocket. SpaceX has been attempting to land these boosters for a while now, with 13 attempts, 8 of which succeeded and 5 of which ended in a large boom. But until March 30th’s launch, the company had yet to reuse a single booster.
SpaceX had an incident only 7 months ago, where a Falcon rocket exploded spectacularly on its launch pad in Cape Canaveral. That explosion marked SpaceX’s second failure in just over a year. An accident in this latest launch with a used rocket would have been a major setback for the company. However, they managed to pull it off without a hitch. The rocket successfully landed on a SpaceX drone ship named “Of Course I Still Love You” 10 minutes later.
But one thing SpaceX is known for is their vision of getting humans to Mars by the year 2020. So one may ask, how does landing all of these rockets contribute to that mission? Well, there is a simple two part answer. First of all, one must understand that SpaceX is a business. They don’t get government tax money and rely on profits and investments to make all of their R&D, launches, and landings possible. By lowering the cost of a launch through reusing rocket boosters, SpaceX is drawing more business to themselves and widening their profit margins (supposedly). The more money they make, the more they can allocate to their mission to Mars. Secondly, a mission to Mars wouldn’t be as simple as launching a singular rocket from Earth and flying it straight to Mars. A much more likely possibility is that SpaceX gets some sort of station into orbit with gear and supplies that the astronauts stop at before their mission to Mars to gather equipment and cargo necessary to make the voyage. Getting all of the necessary equipment and cargo into space will take numerous launches and landings. The cheaper SpaceX can make these launches and landings, the faster they will be ready to finally launch people into the great unknown. At least that is my take on it. I am just making assumptions, but all of this seems pretty plausible.
So whether it seems like it or not, SpaceX is innovating in the aerospace department, and ultimately their innovation will get humans to the surface of Mars. I am looking forward to seeing more of their push forward mindset. Who knows where SpaceX might take us?