On the run up to Christmas there has been some ground-breaking news in the space industry which could lead to huge savings in the future, and even set the marker for future flights into space!The news comes from the US Company SpaceX who successfully landed an unmanned rocket vertically, after launching 11 satellites into the Earth’s orbit.
The rocket, named Falcon-9 (inspired by Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon) was launched at 01:29 GMT and returned to Earth just 10km from its launch site in Cape Canaveral just 36 minutes later, perfectly upright, thanks to its stabilising boosters. This feat has been achieved before, in fact, just one month ago in Texas, the Blue Origin rocket completed this. However Falcon-9 travelled twice as high (up to 200km into space!), making it the first successful touchdown of an orbital-class rocket.
The rocket was 23 storeys tall and cost a staggering $60 million to build. However, the majority of this costs were for the materials, and only $200,000 were for the gas propellant (which is mostly Nitrogen and Oxygen). Rockets normally break up on entering the atmosphere and crash into the world’s oceans, deeming many of the components destroyed and sometimes non-recoverable.
The ability to land a rocket of this size could lead to huge cost reductions in the future, as each rocket, and its components, could potentially be used multiple times, massively decreasing the operational cost of space missions. For the space industry, this is ‘incredibly exciting’. Falcon-9 will not be relaunched but SpaceX have revealed that they want to attempt this feat with another rocket in 2016.
So why is this news so exciting? Other than the huge cost reductions of space missions (which granted, is not that exciting), the ability to land an orbital-class rocket could set a benchmark for future commercial space travel. Using this technology, passengers could be flown into space and returned safely to Earth, just like in Star Wars! And with its recent release maybe it’s a tell-tale sign that soon we could be exploring the galaxies far, far away.
Image Credit SpaceX