“There and back again.” That was one of many tweets from Elon Musk last night. Alongside the tweet was a breathtaking long exposure of the successful launch and landing.
Here’s the historic landing.
Last night’s attempt was the third time SpaceX tried to land the first stage of Falcon 9. And they nailed it! 10 minutes after soaring into the night’s sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the first stage returned to Earth. SpaceX’s vision of reusable rockets became reality. SpaceX employees erupted into cheers and chants of ‘USA!’ after the landing. It’s been a long road to this point, and it’s impossible not to feel the enthusiasm from the thousands of employees.
Trading a drone ship for land
The previous two attempts to land the first stage of Falcon 9 were made at sea. They ranged from Michael Bay-approved explosions.
To so-close misses.
The third attempt aimed for a massive landing pad on solid ground. And SpaceX landed right on the ‘X.’
A game changing moment
“ A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before,” says SpaceX’s Elon Musk. “That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”
Space is hard. It’s a mantra stated by many across the aerospace industry. But space is also expensive. According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 costs about the same as a commercial airliner. But rockets don’t get the benefit of landing and refueling. Until now.
SpaceX believes reusable rockets can trim the costs of traveling to space by a hundredfold. Last night’s success proves first stage rockets can be landed. Now let’s fuel that bad boy up and send it back to space.
We can’t underscore how big of a moment this was for SpaceX. The company desperately needed a win after their last launch ended in a stunning failure. Not only did SpaceX finally accomplish what many thought was impossible. But they did it while launching 11 satellites into orbit. Speaking of the satellites, all 11 were successfully placed into orbit. They all checked in and are now in normal operating mode.
ORBCOMM CEO Marc Eisenberg said the company will “work for the next couple of months to bring them into commercial service.”
The future of space travel
Last night’s success is just the beginning. The Falcon 9 rocket costs about $16 million to build according to Musk. The propellant? About $200,000. Imagine if SpaceX didn’t have to do this after every launch.
And instead, just needed to top it off with fuel. Ok, so it would be a bit more complicated than that – but the cost savings are real.
What’s next for SpaceX? The company’s ambitions have always been much higher than reusable rockets. Musk’s vision is to see a permanent settlement on Mars. Reusable rockets is just one step towards this goal.
“It makes all the difference in the world — absolutely fundamental,” Musk said after Monday night’s launch and landing. “And I think it the rocket landing really dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible. You know, that’s what all this is about.”
Getting humans to Mars won’t be easy. Musk knows this. “It will be super hard to do this, and it will take a lot of time,” he said at a recent AGU conference. “I suspect I probably won’t live to see it become self-sustaining.”
I know one thing. Don’t bet against Elon Musk. If he wants something, he won’t stop until it’s a reality. Here’s the full interview with Elon Musk at AGU 2015.