Reusable Rockets? SpaceX to Attempt First-Ever Ocean Platform Landing

Reusable Rockets? SpaceX to Attempt First-Ever Ocean Platform Landing

If successful, SpaceX will be able to reuse most of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket assembly.

On December 19th at roughly 1:20pm Eastern Time (weather permitting), SpaceX and a soon-to-be-richer NASA will launch a Falcon 9 rocket chock full of supplies, bound for the International Space Station. It's an astronaut-free mission, as has been the case before, but SpaceX's fifth ISS resupply trip will be special nonetheless.

Why? Because SpaceX is going to land that very same Falcon 9 rocket back on Earth, intact. (If all goes according to plan.)

Once the Dragon spacecraft capsule detaches from the Falcon 9 first stage, as is normal, the rocket will fall back down to Earth. Instead of falling down into the ocean, however, SpaceX will attempt to land the rocket on an unanchored platform floating in the water.

This kind of landing, while dreamed about by space agencies the world over, has never been attempted before. And whether it's successful or not (odds are being placed at 50-50), SpaceX will be well on its way to being able to deploy, land, and rapidly reuse rocket components. "A fully and rapidly reusable rocket...is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access," said SpaceX in its blog post. "Over the next year, SpaceX has at least a dozen launches planned with a number of additional testing opportunities."

SpaceX is designing its rockets to withstand the heat of re-entry, which is why a landing is being attempted. If the Falcon 9 can land, and tests show it can be reused, SpaceX (and NASA, by proxy) could stand to save millions while launching rockets into space. Furthermore, such a landing would not only cut costs on ISS trips, but the research could be applied to other, longer manned missions to the Moon, and Mars. Landing a rocket on Mars, then using it to blast back to Earth? That would make planetary exploration easier, cheaper, and perhaps closer than previously anticipated.

SpaceX has already done several successful "soft landings," which has the Falcon 9 fire its boosters before landing in the ocean. The video up top is a land-based launch-and-land test from earlier this year.

Source: SpaceX

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Well, until we can manage to build a space elevator to ferry astronauts and supplies to an orbital launch pad so that we don't have to worry about escaping Earth's gravity well on launch, this will have to do as a step towards making spaceflight cheaper and easier.

NASA used to have a fleet of reusable space vehicles, only it turned out to be very expensive and explodey and when they cancelled the program, it took most of their capability with it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Solid_Rocket_Booster

Not the first reusable rocket. I like SpaceX well enough, but they're using semantics to say "first" when they aren't in this case. There are some firsts here though and good on them for working on it.

Impressive video, very much so.
I did not expect it to land so perfectly upright and on the spot!

Hope it works out, and we can afford to put a lot more stuff into space ASAP! :)

crimson5pheonix:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Solid_Rocket_Booster

Not the first reusable rocket. I like SpaceX well enough, but they're using semantics to say "first" when they aren't in this case. There are some firsts here though and good on them for working on it.

The SRBs didn't go into an orbit so i'm not sure they truly count.

thaluikhain:
NASA used to have a fleet of reusable space vehicles, only it turned out to be very expensive and explodey and when they cancelled the program, it took most of their capability with it.

This is my issue as well
With atmosphere density of Earth "reusable" means "use it safely 3 times and then start playing russian roulette"

I think best solution would be using reusable rockets for unmanned missions, and using new rockets on manned ones.

blackrave:

thaluikhain:
NASA used to have a fleet of reusable space vehicles, only it turned out to be very expensive and explodey and when they cancelled the program, it took most of their capability with it.

This is my issue as well
With atmosphere density of Earth "reusable" means "use it safely 3 times and then start playing russian roulette"

I think best solution would be using reusable rockets for unmanned missions, and using new rockets on manned ones.

Dunno, even losing an unmanned one isn't good.

OTOH, sooner or later it'll likely be workable, and you have to try it to work the bugs out, but I don't think we are there yet.

thaluikhain:

blackrave:

thaluikhain:
NASA used to have a fleet of reusable space vehicles, only it turned out to be very expensive and explodey and when they cancelled the program, it took most of their capability with it.

This is my issue as well
With atmosphere density of Earth "reusable" means "use it safely 3 times and then start playing russian roulette"

I think best solution would be using reusable rockets for unmanned missions, and using new rockets on manned ones.

Dunno, even losing an unmanned one isn't good.

OTOH, sooner or later it'll likely be workable, and you have to try it to work the bugs out, but I don't think we are there yet.

Well, we have to start somewhere, right?
If we ditch reusable spacecraft idea and return to it 200 years later we will have to start from scratch
And it really depends on what unmanned mission is.
If rocket is carrying satellite that will park near some asteroid, then yeah, losing it would be bad.
On the other hand if it's unmanned supply run then I think it is safe way to experiment with reusable rockets.

blackrave:
If we ditch reusable spacecraft idea and return to it 200 years later we will have to start from scratch
And it really depends on what unmanned mission is.
If rocket is carrying satellite that will park near some asteroid, then yeah, losing it would be bad.
On the other hand if it's unmanned supply run then I think it is safe way to experiment with reusable rockets.

I suppose.

But, we won't have to start from scratch, there'd be lots of improvements in materials and technology to make constructing reusable stuff easier.

crimson5pheonix:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Solid_Rocket_Booster

Not the first reusable rocket. I like SpaceX well enough, but they're using semantics to say "first" when they aren't in this case. There are some firsts here though and good on them for working on it.

The article may have since been edited, but I don't see where it says first reusable. But you are absolutely correct.

The "first" in this instance being a reusable liquid-fueled first stage. It's the largest piece of kit on a chemical rocket and those nine engines on it aren't cheap. Plus, the eventual plan is to get the first-stage to return to its launch site, thus further reducing recovery and transport expenses.

But yeah, the good old SRBs were reusable. Insofar as pulling a steel tube out of the ocean and repacking it with powdered aluminum and rubberized oxidizer is considered "reusable". :)

thaluikhain:

blackrave:
If we ditch reusable spacecraft idea and return to it 200 years later we will have to start from scratch
And it really depends on what unmanned mission is.
If rocket is carrying satellite that will park near some asteroid, then yeah, losing it would be bad.
On the other hand if it's unmanned supply run then I think it is safe way to experiment with reusable rockets.

I suppose.

But, we won't have to start from scratch, there'd be lots of improvements in materials and technology to make constructing reusable stuff easier.

By "start from scratch" I mean that specialists who worked with previous generation reusable spacecrafts will be dead.
I'm pretty sure at least some number of experts who worked with shuttles are now participating in this project
And successes and failures of shuttles are lessons that will make these rockets better.

P.S. Then again I may be wrong on everything :)

blackrave:
By "start from scratch" I mean that specialists who worked with previous generation reusable spacecrafts will be dead.
I'm pretty sure at least some number of experts who worked with shuttles are now participating in this project
And successes and failures of shuttles are lessons that will make these rockets better.

True.

One other potential problem that just struck me though, cost cutting in the future might lead people to try and push the things beyond their intended lifespan, instead of replacing them. Apparently this was a big problem for British warships and French magazines, I could see the same happening here.

thaluikhain:

One other potential problem that just struck me though, cost cutting in the future might lead people to try and push the things beyond their intended lifespan, instead of replacing them. Apparently this was a big problem for British warships and French magazines, I could see the same happening here.

What?
By making things cheaper, people will try to use them longer?
O_O
I'm not sure I get the idea.

blackrave:
What?
By making things cheaper, people will try to use them longer?
O_O
I'm not sure I get the idea.

Well, if you've got something, even if it is old, it's cheaper to keep using it, instead of buying a new one. A disposable one you have to replace every time. A reusable one is going to have a longer, but still, limited lifespan.

Why buy a brand new rocket, the tired old one probably won't explode if we keep using it...

thaluikhain:

Well, if you've got something, even if it is old, it's cheaper to keep using it, instead of buying a new one. A disposable one you have to replace every time. A reusable one is going to have a longer, but still, limited lifespan.

Why buy a brand new rocket, the tired old one probably won't explode if we keep using it...

While it's possible, I'm not sure it will happen
We're talking about industry where we have backups, backup backups and sometimes even backups for backup backups
These people do not take guesses.

madster11:

crimson5pheonix:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Solid_Rocket_Booster

Not the first reusable rocket. I like SpaceX well enough, but they're using semantics to say "first" when they aren't in this case. There are some firsts here though and good on them for working on it.

The SRBs didn't go into an orbit so i'm not sure they truly count.

No, but they are reusable which is what SpaceX is claiming their first at.

MinionJoe:

crimson5pheonix:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Solid_Rocket_Booster

Not the first reusable rocket. I like SpaceX well enough, but they're using semantics to say "first" when they aren't in this case. There are some firsts here though and good on them for working on it.

The article may have since been edited, but I don't see where it says first reusable. But you are absolutely correct.

"A fully and rapidly reusable rocket...is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,"

The "first" in this instance being a reusable liquid-fueled first stage. It's the largest piece of kit on a chemical rocket and those nine engines on it aren't cheap. Plus, the eventual plan is to get the first-stage to return to its launch site, thus further reducing recovery and transport expenses.

But yeah, the good old SRBs were reusable. Insofar as pulling a steel tube out of the ocean and repacking it with powdered aluminum and rubberized oxidizer is considered "reusable". :)

There are firsts here, SpaceX is just going overboard on labeling their firsts.

thaluikhain:

Well, if you've got something, even if it is old, it's cheaper to keep using it, instead of buying a new one. A disposable one you have to replace every time. A reusable one is going to have a longer, but still, limited lifespan.

Why buy a brand new rocket, the tired old one probably won't explode if we keep using it...

The space shuttles being a good example of that, they were used well past their expiry date and tbh I'm surprised there wasn't another accident.

Part of that was cost and part was because they had a 'working' rocket there was no urgency for a replacement.

blackrave:

While it's possible, I'm not sure it will happen
We're talking about industry where we have backups, backup backups and sometimes even backups for backup backups
These people do not take guesses.

The history of the space shuttle says otherwise, they were way past their use by date and kept being used anyway until one exploded and even after that a few more years. NASA is run by the government and budget, they have to cut corners like everyone else.

This is just ridiculously exciting. This is really the type of thing that would make a trip to Mars viable and worth it. It was never going to be anything if it were a one way trip, IMO (current plans not escaping my opinion). Reusable rockets is the only way space travel or common trips off of earth could ever be possible.

Edit: I mean reusable in the sense that you need minimum work to put the damn thing back in space. I'm not sure I would consider current options as fully reusable because of the shear cost of work and setup time makes that sense almost useless.

crimson5pheonix:

"A fully and rapidly reusable rocket...is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,"

There are firsts here, SpaceX is just going overboard on labeling their firsts.

Are you sure you're not reading "reusable first stage" as "first reusable stage"? Word order is important in this instance...

MinionJoe:

crimson5pheonix:

"A fully and rapidly reusable rocket...is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,"

There are firsts here, SpaceX is just going overboard on labeling their firsts.

Are you sure you're not reading "reusable first stage" as "first reusable stage"? Word order is important in this instance...

Well the full quote from SpaceX, which is being truncated on the Escapist is:

A fully and rapidly reusable rocket-which has never been done before-is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access.

They're either playing on the word "fully" or "rapidly" to claim first. Or possibly "rocket".

 

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