These days, space enthusiasts are keeping a watchful eye on SpaceX as it strives for a potentially revolutionary goal. The private spaceflight company is trying to figure out a way to reuse its Falcon 9 rockets by landing them safely after they have launched into space. If SpaceX succeeds, the spaceflight game changes forever.
Typically, after a rocket launches into space, much of its body is either destroyed or lost, never to be recovered. This makes traveling to Lower Earth Orbit a costly endeavor, as a new rocket must be built for every launch. But SpaceX wants to change all that. The company recently modified its Falcon 9 rocket, adding on “hypersonic grid fins” that are meant to carefully guide the rocket back down to Earth post-launch. That way, SpaceX can re-launch already used rockets, dramatically bringing down the cost of going to space.
Although a recent test didn’t go exactly as planned (more on that below), SpaceX is forging ahead with their plans to build reusable rockets. They even made a video to show what the process of launching and recovering a rocket will look like. Take a look:
The video shows the theoretical launch of a Falcon Heavy, a larger variant of the Falcon 9 that is currently in development. Unlike the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy will have two booster engines on either side of the rocket’s main shaft, helping to provide additional thrust. At a certain point in time in the video, after the Falcon Heavy launches, these boosters no longer become necessary and detach from the main rocket. That’s when SpaceX engineers (not shown) remotely guide the boosters back down to Earth, landing them in an imagined spaceport. The landing process is then repeated for the majority of the remaining rocket, after it sends its payload into space. The result: Most of the rocket is conserved for future use.
The process looks pretty spectacular, especially since it’s never quite been done before. Also, the heavy metal guitar theme song underlying the video adds to its epicness in a cheesy sort of way. But SpaceX may very well be on its way to turning the video’s dream into a reality. In January, the company made its first attempt at fulfilling this vision by trying to land a Falcon 9 rocket after launching it to the International Space Station. The rocket’s intended landing spot? An autonomous drone spaceport floating freely in the Atlantic Ocean. While much of the rocket’s body did indeed land on the ship–an impressive feat in itself–it did so with a little too much oomph. The rocket slammed into the spaceport, exploding into pieces.
But the failed attempt only bolstered SpaceX’s resolve. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, claims the company knows went wrong with the rocket landing and that a second attempt in the next couple of weeks will prove successful. For that launch, might we suggest a theme song from the incomparable Chumbawamba?