It still feels like it was yesterday that SpaceX announced its plans for building reusable rockets. They were mocked at, but continued to move towards their goal of making space travel a commercial venture. It was during the December of 2015, that the world witnessed the first successful recovery of the first stage of an orbital launch rocket. The Falcon 9 rockets (named after the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars) have created a new milestone in space exploration by achieving this feat. In March 2017, the first re-flight of a landed first stage took place and since then SpaceX has sent multiple rockets which used the recovered first stage systems.
(Launch of a Falcon 9 rocket)
Another extraordinary feat in this field was achieved through the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. In February 2018, SpaceX launched a Tesla roadster with a dummy dubbed ‘Starman’ in the driver’s seat aboard the rocket and successfully deployed it into orbit. This also acted as proof of concept that the reusable launching system could be modified to carry heavy and arguably, even super-heavy payloads into orbit.
(The Tesla Roadster orbiting earth)
The next step towards such systems will be the Starship rocket which is being designed such that both the stages will be reusable. This would truly be extraordinary as the second stage contains many hardware components of the rocket. If it turns out as it should, these rockets will be capable of delivering resources to Mars.
Now, let us look into the important question. Why are reusable rockets considered so important? As everyone might know, a typical rocket costs around a few hundred million to build and launch. But having reusable rockets, it becomes possible to lower the cost per run. With the starship system, it has been estimated that the cost could be brought down to a few million dollars. All such reductions make it possible to bring space exploration closer to the general public.
As the original plan of SpaceX was to send humans to mars, such advancements in technology, bring that dream closer to reality. These marvelous feats of physics and engineering being pioneered at SpaceX truly have changed the way we look at space travel. As the reliability of the Falcon 9s has been proven time and again, we can be sure that these starship rockets will also turn out to achieve their goals in the near future. It has also been estimated that with a bit of service, most of these reusable stages can perform well over 100 flights in their lifetime.
(A Starship Rocket)
As we edge closer and closer to space travel becoming a common activity, we truly have to appreciate the long way that we have come from initial rockets which couldn’t even break through the atmosphere to now when we can aim towards travelling to new planets. All of this just goes to show that if time and science are used to the fullest, humans can achieve various tasks which were once just dreams.