December 25, 2015

"Now that SpaceX has landed a rocket after launching it into space, the possibility of reusing rockets isn’t as fantastic of an idea as it once was."

The Verge SpaceX has promoted reusability as a major cost-saver for the private spaceflight industry. by Loren Grush

'Right now, rockets are treated as trash once they've taken off, so companies must spend millions of dollars on manufacturing brand new rockets for every single flight. It costs $60 million to make the Falcon 9, and $200,000 to fuel it, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Reusing rockets could substantially lower these costs, he says; theoretically, a rocket would only need to be refueled to launch multiple times again.

'That’s not exactly right. SpaceX needs to be certain that its returned rockets are capable of flying again. The Falcon 9 experiences major temperature changes during its flights, as well as intense pressures and vibrations from the winds in the atmosphere. These all produce wear-and-tear on the vehicle's hardware — meaning the rocket might need repairs and updates before it can launch again. Refurbishing a rocket engine is often expensive. And if those repairs take too long, SpaceX can’t launch its vehicles as frequently.

'Refurbishment costs were one of the main reasons the Space Shuttle — another partially reusable space system — turned out to be so expensive. The Shuttle launched with the help of a giant expendable fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters that were recovered post-launch. The Shuttle could then land back on Earth once its time in space was over, like a plane after flight.'

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