YOU may have seen something on any number of news websites or newspapers about Elon Musk's personal NASA, SpaceX, launching and then landing their Falcon 9 Rocket.
"Big deal" you may have said. "We landed a rocket on the moon in the sixties. This is old-hat."
Well, no, it's not the same thing. We've put small landers onto the moon or mars (or a comet) but nothing nearly as large as a whole booster section.
You know that famous scene from Apollo 13 where you see parts of the Saturn V fall away back to Earth? We didn't land those, they just pancaked the instant they hit the ground.
Firstly, the engineering to make something that large land after plummeting toward the ground is staggering.
The videos of failed previous attempts are enough to make anyone appreciate the enormity of the challenge.
Secondly and most importantly, is the cost. Currently there are only really four organisations you can go through to get something launched - NASA, SpaceX, Roscosmos, and the ESA. The current price is around the $USD5000 per kilo on a good day.
A major part of this cost, using SpaceX numbers, is that you lose a $16m booster every launch. If you could somehow get that booster back without totalling it, all of a sudden the enterprise only costs you the $200,000 it takes to refuel the rocket.
We'll now be able to test how reusable they are and, most significantly, we'll be able to expand our thinking for what we can get out of space exploration.
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