I have to admit it. When I first saw the video of SpaceX’s reusable rocket it reminded me of crude 1950s rockets from TV, the kind that would land, thrusters first, on the surface of the moon to deliver silver-suited astronauts. For this reason, the SpaceX ‘grasshopper’ appeared to me at least to be a truly quixotic venture. Head-turning but a bit of a novelty.
Ross Andersen on Aeon explains their true, remarkable potential. Reuseable rockets, if the technology were perfected and scaled up, would create a kind of low-cost production line of transportation into space, which could open a lot of other possiblities.
[SpaceX chief Elon Musk] says he is working on a reusable rocket, one that can descend smoothly back to Earth after launch, and be ready to lift off again in an hour.
…He told me full reusability would reduce mission costs by two orders of magnitude, to tens of dollars per pound of weight. That’s the price that would convert Earth’s launch pads into machine guns, capable of firing streams of spacecraft at deep space destinations such as Mars.
This technology has progressed beyond the drawing board and is being tested in Texas. The prospect of rockets launching and delivering goods into space on an hourly basis would transform expectations for space development. As a guess, I’d say that from a geopolitical perspective, this sort of breakthrough would likely alter perceptions about US space power, as well. Particularly in a time when China and India are capturing headlines for their moon missions and Mars probes.