Reusable rockets from PayPal…

SpaceX Falcon 1 at launch (Credit: SpaceX)

A little something different on this holiday Sunday.

A couple of weeks ago, a rocket made its second test launch. It was a mostly successful test – the first stage worked perfectly; the second stage worked fine except that the fuel started sloshing around so much that the engine cut out prematurely. But the company responsible is happy enough with the results that they’re going to put a real satellite on the top of their next launch. No big deal, I hear you saying. And in a lot of ways, it isn’t. It’s just another light orbital rocket. Except this one has a reusable first stage. And, by this process, SpaceX, the developers, hope to radically reduce the cost of launching stuff to space.

The current major project by the former owner of PayPal, Elon Musk (aside from funding Tesla Motors and Thank You For Smoking), is a privately-funded startup developing a number of different rockets. This one, the Falcon 1, only has a reusable first stage;their next design, the Falcon 9, will be fully reusable, as will their manned capsule to ride on top of it.

Oh, yeah. They’re planning to put people in space too. There should be a market; NASA’s upcoming Orion space craft is way overkill for launching crews to the space station, so NASA is searching for “commercial off the shelf” deals for the job, They’ve signed a deal for $278 million with NASA for three test launches of the system. 90 million USD per launch is not cheap, by any means. But, if they can pull it off, it will be radically cheaper than their competitors both US and foreign.

There have been a number of private space startups over the years. But none has gotten close to what SpaceX has achieved. Here’s hoping Musk’s more ambitious goals come off. Like Musk himself, I want my Mars mission, and cutting the cost is the only way it will ever happen.

UPDATE: Link added to SpaceX corporate website. Whoops!

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Posted in science, Technology
6 comments on “Reusable rockets from PayPal…
  1. Fiasco da Gama says:

    Awesome. More rocketry posts, please.
    Here’s the link to the Falcon1 technical specifications, which give a lot of grounds for optimism: liquid oxygen/kerosene as a fuel is far better than stuffing around with rubber solid fuels or wierd tetroxide liquid oxidisers.
    Your point about Mars and reusability is well made: I strongly suspect that if a Mars mission ever gets off the ground, it’ll be started through lots of smaller orbital trips, putting vessel bits into space for assembly, rather than a Soviet/NASA style One Big Bunger launch.

  2. Fiasco: I disagree a little: putting function bits of spacecraft together in space is kind of difficult – see ISS. But launching multiple propulsion stages/fuel tanks might be a goer.

    Musk plans something called the BFR, which will get close to Saturn V class lift capabilities. You could do a Mars mission with only a few launches of something that big.

  3. Fiasco da Gama says:

    BFR

    Heh. Someone’s been playing Doom.

  4. Jacques Chester says:

    But none has gotten close to what SpaceX has achieved.

    I can’t say that I agree. A Texas banker named Beal was working on very large rockets with an eye to the same prize: cheap, regular, private lift capacity.

    He was essentially put out of business by NASA changing the rules on him. A rotten business that fires my libertarian blood up.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beal_Aerospace

  5. Jacues: Interesting. However, it’s part of the realities of the space business that large parts of your business will come from the military and government. Musk, for whatever reason, has managed to sweet-talk NASA and the US government into paying for his services.

    It probably helps that he’s in the right place at the right time; with NASA strapped for cash and about to retire the Shuttle, he might just hold a monopoly on American crewed launch services…

  6. Nabakov says:

    I love this shit! Keep posting about it Robert M.

    Even Heinlein’s “The Man That Sold The Moon” didn’t come at all close to the wonderful craziness nowadays of ICT and internet billionaries starting their own space programs. I betcha Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos are now seriously spending up hundreds of millions to leapfrog Elon Musk (What a name! Couldn’t make it up) and eachother for the next step.

    The automotive and aviation industries started up exactly the same way. Brillant techy dudes a bit too out there for Government work hooking up with whacky well-resourced gentleman adventurers.

    If only Glenn Curtiss, Tommy Sopwith, Henri Farman, Gabriel Voison, Geoffrey De Havilland, Alberto Santos-Dumont and Lois Bleriot were around now to hang out with Burt Rutan and co.

    Damn my eyes, times like this I really do heart the 21st century.

    Per Ardua Ad Astra Via Eccentrica!

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