Fully Reusable Rockets; Elon Musk’s Next Great Motive

On March 30th, SpaceX made history when it became the first to launch and land a refurbished rocket into orbital space. Seriously, it was fucking awesome. But Elon Musk and co. aren’t stopping there. According to Musk’s Twitter, SpaceX aims to launch a reused upper stage by late next next year in order “to get to 100%” reusability. That’s right: Musk doesn’t just want to reuse the first stage booster, which is estimated to cut down launch costs by up to 30 percent. He wants to reuse the whole damn rocket.

Some salient questions remain, however. What does a 100 percent reusable rocket even look like? And can that be achieved on such a tight timeline?

Phil Larson, former Obama space policy advisor and SpaceX official, is pretty confident the company can pull it off. “It is an interesting concept,” he told Gizmodo. “As we’ve all seen, they can make the impossible possible. So recovering and reusing 100 percent of the hardware is definitely possible, but just like landing rockets on drone ships it will be a challenging engineering problem.

Ideally, rockets would function like airplanes—they’d launch, land, fuel up and get ready to do it all over again. But there’s significantly more wear and tear associated with exiting and entering Earth’s atmosphere, and according to Atkins, we’re a long way from figuring out how to make rockets like high-functioning aircrafts.

Still, it’s good to have lofty ambitions, and that’s one thing SpaceX has a lot of. They also have a lot of money, which is generally good for building things that fly into space.

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