SpaceX has now successfully landed three rockets from space—one by land and two by sea. That has given the company quite a collection of boosters in its Hangar 39A at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
This weekend, the rocket company released some photos of the three boosters together after the Falcon 9, which delivered a Japanese communications satellite transfer orbit some 35,786km above the Earth earlier this month, was towed back to the Florida coast and brought into the hangar. This success led Musk to muse on Twitter: “May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar.”
These three landings have marked an important step toward a key goal of SpaceX and other new space companies—reusability. This would completely remake the economics of spaceflight because launch costs are driven by hardware, not propellants. The cost to fuel a Falcon 9 rocket with liquid oxygen and kerosene propellant is about $200,000, Musk said. The company’s commercial launch price is $61 million.
Although landing three Falcon 9 first stages has unquestionably garnered the most attention, SpaceX must now show that it can refurbish these rockets and their engines quickly and cost effectively for new flights. Initially, SpaceX plans to reduce the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket with a reused booster to $43 million per flight, a savings of 30 percent. The first flight of a flown booster could come some time this summer.
Eventually, Musk wants to make nearly all of the Falcon 9 launch system reusable, and he wants to make launches and landings routine. “Rapid and complete reusability is really important to make a rocket cost effective, like an airplane,” he said in April. “We’ve got to ultimately get rockets to that point.” A Falcon 9 might fly as many as 100 times before retirement, he added.