I was born just four months after the last Apollo astronauts brushed gray dust off the space suit and lifted it off the moon. As interest in space has risen over the years and writing about this industry has become my career, I am deeply saddened to have missed out on this glorious moment in our shared space history. I lived with that regret for decades, until April 8, 2016.
Five years ago, today SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 rocket aboard.
I wasn’t prepared for the experience of watching skinny black and white rockets fall from the sky against the blue backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and land on a small drone. As the Whitecap crashed into the side of the ship, it looked like the portal opened to the future. This advancement in rocket technology washes away any regrets I have about missing Apollo. For my opinion, landing the Falcon 9 first step at sea is an important step in reducing the costs of taking people and loading things into space and unlocking a brighter future in space travel.
After nearly ten failed attempts, the subsequent landings were filled with a SpaceX hangar full of used rockets. This left some SpaceX engineers unaware. “It even surprised us that we suddenly had 10 first stages or something like that,” said Hans Konigsmann, one of SpaceX’s first hiring workers. After a few years “And so are we, we don’t really take that into consideration.”
Want the sea
A few months before the ship landed, SpaceX was sure to have successfully returned the Falcon 9 to the “landing zone” along the Florida coast near the launch pad. This is a great achievement. But landing on a drone is much more difficult. When landing on the shore, only the rocket is moving. When it touches the sea, both the rocket and the drone are moving, and there are many other marine states and things to consider.
But economics quite need a downgrade of the launch site. That’s because during launch, the rocket will gradually lean from vertically to horizontally as it prepares for a second-stage launch on the trajectory.At this point, a large number of thrusters are required to capture this horizontal velocity and reverse the path. Back to the release point Getting the rocket along the parabolic arc is much more fuel efficient and it lands hundreds of kilometers from the launch point.
This happened in the Falcon 9 rocket performance data that landed aboard a drone capable of lifting about 5.5 tons into the moving orbit. geostationary compared to 3.5 tonnes for rockets returning at launch point.If SpaceX doesn’t know how to land the Falcon 9’s first phase aboard a drone, it will eliminate about 40 percent of the rocket’s lift capacity – a huge penalty. That will negate the benefits of reusing rockets.
Nearly a decade ago, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin patented the idea of landing a rocket aboard for this reason. (This forced SpaceX to go to court, and patent challenges eventually succeeded.) But there is a huge difference in knowing something and actually doing something. Since the patent was granted, Blue Origin has not launched an orbiting rocket, let alone anything with its landing, Bezos installed and named the platform ship. Jack LinBut it’s unlikely to catch a rocket before 2023 at the earliest.
On the other hand, since the first successful landing on a drone. Of course I still love youSpaceX has sent another 56 Falcon 9 rockets safely back to sea. Ocean landings have proven to be an amazingly usable technology. From the launch of SpaceX’s 10 rockets in 2021, all of them went into orbit during the first phase they had previously flown. Some people returned to space within four weeks of the previous launch. By landing the first Falcon 9 rocket in the sea, SpaceX began a revolution in launch. The rocket is no longer reused, it is a vital part of the business
“I was amazed to see a new launch vehicle in development that could not be reused,” Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told me in December.
The dramatic landing of that first stage allowed me to meet my personal journey. I realized that SpaceX isn’t just a really interesting company doing cool stuff in space, it’s a transformative space company in my lifetime.
I began to report in more detail on the company’s activities, trying to understand where it came from, and more fully embraced the inspiration of SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk. Eventually, this resulted in Liftoff’s book on the company’s origins.One of the things I got from this report was that it was just as amazing as automatic drone landings.They were just one of the longitudinal miracles. To be aware of the human presence on the surface of Mars.
In the 2000s, SpaceX nearly died several times as a veteran company with its Falcon 1 rocket.In 2010, SpaceX replicated it on the Falcon 9, the first award-winning contract for the launch of NASA and commercial satellites. In turn, these missions provided SpaceX engineers with breathing chambers to experiment with recovering and refining a used rocket. Today, it is for this reason that they are able to fly the first stage very quickly and at a significantly reduced cost.
Now, with Starship, SpaceX is trying to reuse these larger orbits and not just bring them back in the early stages – at this stage, Super Heavy supporters are the same as the first-stage Falcon 9, but also. It is also a Starship.This presents other challenges as Starship will return to Earth at an orbital speed of about Mach 23, and after this, SpaceX engineers will have to find a way to refuel the spacecraft in Earth’s low orbit and Crew treatment methods There was life on the way to Mars on the surface and on the way home. Each of these represents a great deal of engineering difficulty.
However, in pondering how far SpaceX has come in the five years since it first landed, I was left. But the only conquered idea that if this company could land a rocket on a ship in the middle of the ocean, what wouldn’t? So now I’m glad I missed the Apollo era if that meant I could live right now with an uncertain future. But without boundaries before us
Item image by SpaceX