Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk was elated to see his SpaceX project complete a major milestone in late March as a reused Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on a drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean. It is important to note that this particular rocket had already orbited Earth back in April of last year and landed safely; this time, the Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral, reached orbit, deployed a communications satellite, returned to Earth, and landed safely.
Although it is too early to tell whether the rocket could be used again, Elon Musk stressed the significance of this successful mission in the sense that it proves the ability to reuse orbital class boosters, which happen to be among the most expensive elements of space flight.
Reusable rockets could add a new dynamic to the aerospace industry and not just in terms of cost savings. There is also the opportunity to bring back samples from space once engineers figure out how these rockets could dock with returning space probes. Another positive aspects is that rockets could be made partially recyclable in the event their landings are not perfect.
Out of 13 prior tests, eight of them have returned and landed safely. The entire rocket does not come back to Earth; only the first stage returns, which is the most expensive part of the rocket since it holds the actual propulsion engines.
The Falcon reusable rocket program has been around for 15 years. SpaceX will now investigate the possibility of launching this particular Falcon 9 one more time, which will mark its third trip to space orbit. There is no question that this rocket has certainly paid off; its last mission was to deliver 7,000 pounds of instruments and supplies to the International Space Station. A third mission may be the charm for this space workhorse.
The satellite launched by the returning Falcon 9 is currently orbiting over Latin America, where it will deliver wireless communications to subscribers in that region. The telecom company CEO explained that the cost savings were nice but the opportunity to be part of aerospace history was an even more enticing proposition.