Like any innovative company, SpaceX continues to try to look for ways to make the “difficult” a reality. The ability to reuse a rocket has been talked about for decades, but no space organization has attempted to make it happen. After 13 years of working on the issue, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes it is a possibility in the not too distant future.
The Motley Fool shared Musk’s comments from a recent interview in which he explained, “It just happens that earth’s gravity is quite strong, and it’s just barely possible to get a reasonable payload to orbit with an expendable rocket, so then if you add reusability, then that tends to give it negative payload to orbit.” Musk acknowledges they have not achieved it yet, because what they have done to date is evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary. Nonetheless, he believes his company is continuing to advance rocket technology to the point where it will be possible to land rockets for reuse. He clarified, “I think we’re within, sort of, shooting distance of this. I think within the next year, we’ll be able to land the rocket intact.”
Critics of reusability argue that the key issue to consider is the condition of a rocket after it is launched. They feel that the stress from a trip to space would render the rocket subpar for future missions even it is possible to land it.
Despite the critics, reusability represents a very enticing opportunity for SpaceX. Reusability would be revolutionary to the economics of space launch services. As Musk explained during the interview, the cost of its rockets are approximately $60 million, but the cost of the propellant is only about $250,000 to $300,000 — “about as expensive as fueling up a 747.”
If SpaceX can solve the reusability problem, this would give SpaceX a substantial leg up on its competitors in the use of rockets whether they carry a commercial payload or military payload. According to Bloomberg, SpaceX is close to winning its first U.S. military satellite launch. The market for the launch of such satellites is estimated to be worth about $70 billion through 2030 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. SpaceX plans to charge less than $100 million for military missions compared to $160 million of the current sole supplier United Launch Alliance. Reusable rockets would make this type of opportunity even more lucrative for SpaceX.
(Photo: SpaceX, Flickr)