Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, wants to put American astronauts
back in space. He wants them to go there aboard American-built
rockets powered by
American-built rocket engines
And if he succeeds, American taxpayers could save billions of
Last month, SpaceX, the "space exploration" firm that Elon
Musk built, released a video documenting its progress toward
building our first reusable spacecraft since
NASA canceled the Space Shuttle program
. The video shows SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket descending to Earth
after boosting a payload into orbit -- firing its reentry
boosters, extending its landing gear, and then softly landing
back on Earth. Unfortunately, the Falcon 9 rocket landed in
water. So upon "landing," it promptly tipped over and sank...
But even so, it was a pretty impressive accomplishment, and
you can watch it all happen right here:
Last month's soft landing represents the next step in the
evolution of SpaceX's experimental
program into a new Falcon 9R (for "reusable") rocket. Standing
10 stories tall
, Grasshopper featured a first-stage Falcon 9 rocket powered by a
single Merlin 1D engine, bound by a steel support structure, and
standing perched atop four steel and aluminum landing legs with
Falcon 9R will be bigger than Grasshopper, featuring a
full-size first-stage rocket, powered by a full complement of
nine Merlin rocket engines.
SpaceX Grasshopper at rest. Photo: SpaceX.
Operating off a launch pad in Texas, Grasshopper spent several
months from 2012 to 2013, rocketing to
higher and higher heights
in successive test flights, and landing back on its launch pad
each time. Grasshopper even
made the job harder
for itself at one point, shifting horizontally away from its pad
after launch, then self-correcting and
landing back on home base.
Now, SpaceX's almost-successful landing of the mission-ready (
and USAF certified
) Falcon 9 shows that the project that Grasshopper began, is
evolving into something nearly ready for prime time. So why is
An end to disposable spacecraft
The successful, controlled reentry and landing of SpaceX's Falcon
9 shows us how the Grasshopper experiment is morphing into a true
replacement for the now defunct Space Shuttle program. This is
key for U.S. taxpayers.
Ever since the Space Shuttle stopped running, the U.S.
government has been sending its satellites into space aboard
"disposable" spacecraft. Tens of millions of dollars are spent
building rockets from scratch. After launch, those rockets are
jettisoned to burn up in the atmosphere.
Want to launch another satellite? First, you've got to build
yourself another rocket.
Reintroducing the reusable spacecraft
A "reusable" Falcon 9 would put an end to this practice. It would
permit a rocket, once built, to be launched, refurbished,
refueled, and launched again. According to Musk, the rocket fuel
needed to put a satellite in orbit accounts for only 0.3% of the
cost of a space launch. Accordingly, adding extra fuel to permit
a rocket booster to make a controlled reentry and landing should
only add 0.3% to the cost of a space launch.
Though, 75% of the cost of any rocket launch can be attributed
to building its first-stage rocket. By making this first-stage
rocket reusable, instead of disposable, Musk thinks he can drop
the cost of a space launch by 75%.
Total potential savings: 75% minus 0.3% equals 74.7%.
SpaceX wants to save you some money
Now, the math is actually a bit more complicated than that.
Additional costs will be involved in:
- building a bigger rocket, or adding rocket boosters, to
carry the reentry fuel
- buying even
fuel to lift the necessary reentry fuel into space
- the costs of recovering and reconditioning rockets for
But you get the point: Even with all the added costs attendant
on running a reusable rocket operation, the savings here could
still be significant.
How significant? In
testimony before Congress
back in March, Musk suggested that at the very least, his firm
can save taxpayers about two-thirds of the cost that
currently charge to launch government satellites into space. Over
the next 15 years, that could add up to about $50 billion in
With savings like these, the rocket that used to be called
"Grasshopper" could one day save taxpayers some serious
One small hop for Grasshopper, one giant leap for taxpayers.
More from The Motley Fool:
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$50 Billion or More?
originally appeared on Fool.com.
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