Elon Musk Says Rockets Reusability Will Be The Revolution

SpaceX image of Falcon 9 engine test firing launch pad Texas posted on AmericaSpace
Seen here is the test firing of a Falcon 9-R engine. SpaceX’s founder has stated that he views reusability as key to revolutionizing space flight. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, discussed the company’s objectives in the short and long term at the D11 executive conference on May 28.

“The goal is to improve rocket technology and space technology until we can send people to Mars and establish life on Mars,” said Musk. “I agree this is an unlikely outcome, but if we don’t keep improving technology every year, we won’t get there”.

According to Musk, the technical challenge is to have a fully reusable rocket to cut down the cost. In the next couple of years, SpaceX is planning to have a reusable first stage. This new development will reduce the overall cost by three-quarters. Musk has published some pictures on Twitter showing the fire tests of the Falcon 9-R, which is the reusable version derived from Falcon 9. The pictures show an octagonal engines configuration, instead of the 3×3 grid, typical of the Merlin 1D motor.

However, although reusability has not yet been achieved, SpaceX’s success is measured by the fact that the company is able to charge less than other established launch service suppliers.  Since fuel is only the 0.3 percent of the rocket’s total cost and materials count the 2 percent, SpaceX have reduced the cost by eliminating what Musk defined as “silly” operations in the construction, cutting down the price for a Falcon 9′s launch to only $54 million.

The confidence in SpaceX is so high that, although the upgraded version of the Falcon 9 with the capacity to accommodate a satellite, has not yet flown, the company’s launch manifesto has been completely filled. SpaceX has already contracted 23 purely commercial missions between 2013 and 2017. Counting ISS resupply and NASA missions, the number is increased to 40 through 2017. The upgraded version of Falcon 9 will be launched for the first time on July 20, carrying the Canadian low-Earth Orbit science satellite, Cassiope. The first commercial launch to Geostationary Transfer Orbit will be the SES-8, a telecommunication satellite owned by Luxemburg based SES, later in 2013.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry has signed a bill that will allow the temporary closure of Boca Chica Beach for safety reasons during rocket launches. Although SpaceX has not yet decided where to build its spaceport, the bill was one of the prerequisites to build a launch facility in the area. According to Musk, South Texas is the leading candidate site for the construction of the launch pad.


This article was written by Matteo Emanuelli and originally appeared in Space Safety Magazine. It can be reviewed here: Elon Musk

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    • Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves here Tracy although I love your enthusiasm.
      SpaceX has done some remarkable work to date but even Elon admits that they’re really pushing the envelope with this one and might not make it. No one has done so to date so that makes it either a really really hard problem to solve or, up ’til now, on one thinks it’s worthwhile.
      There may be a third reason as well linked to the second and at the risk of incurring moderator wrath, I’ll simply say that perhaps existing companies were more than willing to gouge their customers who had essentially no choice but to pay up.
      That said, all the very best of luck to SpaceX.

      • I’ll have to agree with Neil there. The fact that rocket reusability hasn’t been performed for the past 50+ years that rocket technology is being used, isn’t encouraging. Maybe it can be done technically, but it might prove it’s not that much cost effective to begin with.

        I’m not a rocket engineer, and maybe the question I want to ask is a silly one, but how could rocket reusability be established from an engineering point of view? I mean, when you launch your reusable rocket and want to bring it back to the ground, does this mean that you have to make a powered descent? If so, doesn’t that mean that when you launch, you have to carry all the fuel for the return trip also? Wouldn’t that mean that you’ll ultimately reduce your payload to orbit capacity by 1/3 or more and add to more cost? A second way to reuse the rocket stages might be to let them fall with parachutes and on the final approach fire some retros in order to land. Maybe there are other ways also, but as I said, I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m just wondering.

        And assuming that you achieve resuability, would the post-launch inspection and maintenance of the rocket stages prove cost-effective and valuable? Can someone with more knowledge on rocket engineering, clarify things more?

        All said, best wishes and luck to SpaceX. I think that everyone is excited, waiting to see what happens.

        • Neil and Leonidas
          Musk has said publicly that retaining fuel for propulsed landing reduces lift capability by 40% but reduces launch cost by a factor of 1 or 2 ….so a $60,000,000 launch cost becomes $6,000,000 at a factor of 1 reduction and $600,000 at a factor of 2 reduction. this means he has to do more launches to make up for the lift reduction of 40%… So to the client he says well we have to do two launches instead of 1 and that will cost you only $12,000,000 not 60,000,000…. Can you design your cargo accordingly…I am thinking that most would say …YES! Now the reason it has not been done before is because the US government has directly or indirectly created and maintained the Cost plus Profit approach to paying for launch services which says The US government will pay whatever the cost is for you to build the rocket and then we will pay you a 10% profit on that amount thus pushing the cost up…
          Musk comes along and says …We have been doing chemical launch for over 60 years with no real advancement in effeceincy…As such the entire industry was poised for complete paradigm shift in space launch technology…

  1. I don’t think it is hard…Elon has had far too much success to quick for this all to be too difficult…Its really just the C word that we don’t want to discuss which really is indicative of all Government Programs whether it is State Department, DOJ, IRS or …..NASA …I am looking forward to getting off Earth before we all completely become NAZIS 2.0….

  2. Keep in mind we are talking about a potential of added capability. The F9r, supposing it works, takes nothing away from the F9.

    SpaceX is ready for some very profitable years ahead (with or without the F9r) but profit is only a means to an end for Elon. To talk about establishing life on mars is still a subject mostly whispered to avoid ridicule. But we are getting closer.

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