Landing a rocket upright for reuse on a drone ship bobbing away in the choppy seas of the Atlantic Ocean is a major accomplishment. I mean it’s huge. It may not have the romance and nail-biting appeal of putting a man on the moon to the back drop of the Cold War, but it should not for a moment be thought of as anything less than revolutionary.
Elon Musk as King Midas
It would be quite difficult to argue that everything Elon Musk touches doesn’t turn to gold. In fact, to argue it at best might be a fool’s errand, and worst the acme of folly. Musk, one of the founders of PayPal, took his buyout from PayPal and put everything on the line to create a private space company in 2002, while also believing he could revolutionize both the automobile and perhaps even the whole automotive industry. SolarCity has done quite well, and with just writing a white paper about the Hyperloop a few years ago was enough to light a fire under the asses of a enough companies that shared his vision.
He is the modern day Tony Stark, but I have a feeling he probably has a flying suit stashed away somewhere so an Iron Man comparison wouldn’t be completely off-base.
With the successful sea-landing of one of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket boosters, SpaceX truly turned a corner last week and has shown the world that what was once deemed impossible is far from it.
Beyond the upright sea-landing, let’s not forget that Musk and SpaceX made a bit of money with the launch that saw its Dragon capsule being dispatched to the International Space Station for a resupply and the delivery of an inflatable module for the ISS that will be inflated in a couple of months. The capsule is expected to splash down in the ocean later this week for recovery and reuse.
Musk doesn’t go the easy route
While SpaceX will fly missions for others where fuel-constraints don’t make a terra firma landing possible and must be recovered at sea, this was not one of those. Musk and SpaceX could have landed it on solid ground as the company demonstrated it could do in December, but instead went with the drone-ship landing despite four prior failures and the world watching. That, however, is not Musk’s style.
“And they said it couldn’t be done (at least no one has ever done it) until, of course, you did it,” former NASA space shuttle manager Wayne Hale wrote in on Twitter heralding the accomplishment.
“I think this was a really good milestone for the future of spaceflight, I think it’s another step toward the stars,” Musk told reporters after the landing.
And it is, after the rocket is recovered from the drone-ship it will be test fired about ten times and offered at a discount to a satellite company willing to see their cargo make a historic flight. The first launch of cargo from a rocket that has flown twice; that is expected to occur as early as June.
SpaceX would much rather land its rockets on its landing pad and save itself the trouble of sending out a drone-ship and its accompanying recovery ships. And while an option with this mission, the majority of future missions will not have this luxury.
“We decided we wanted to go for the drone ship and see if we could get a successful landing,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president for flight reliability, said before Friday’s successful landing.
“The next two or three flights are going to be drone ship landings — there’s no choice there … It’s a good opportunity for us to refine our drone ship landing capabilities and get this done because in the long run, that’s certainly something that we need to demonstrate over and over again to get the first stages back.”
That is no guarantee of success but is certainly ambitious not to mention the future of space flight and the revolutionary pricing that SpaceX will be able to offer going forward if reuse becomes common place. And commonplace is precisely what Musk and SpaceX are looking to achieve.
“We’ll be successful, ironically, when it becomes boring,” said Musk at a news conference with NASA Friday. “When it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, another landing, OK, no news there.”’
SpaceX going forward
SpaceX is looking to fly nearly 20 missions this year, about triple the amount of last year’s schedule. And the company is not doing it for fun, they have contracts that demand it. Next year, SpaceX plans its first manned mission to the International Space Station and that is nothing less that a major accomplishment or perhaps the end of the company if lives were lost. Clearly, for those who saw a man walk on the moon and for those of us born too late, we wish Iron Man and SpaceX all the best going forward.
And it never hurts that we can use a home-grown company rather than the Russians to get our astronauts to the ISS and home safely.