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!