On December 22, southern California passerby gazed up at the stars as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sped across the sky. The launch was SpaceX’s eighteenth and final launch of 2017.
Earlier that month, SpaceX had accomplished a feat that had never been done before, and that changes space travel forever: they successfully launched and landed a reused rocket. Space travel has long been viewed as impractical due to the high cost of building the vessels that make it possible. However, now the only costs for SpaceX to launch one of its rockets are the cost of the fuel and the leasing of the launchpads and landing sites, making it astronomically cheaper to get to space.
Imagine if airplanes were disposable–that each time one flew it would be discarded and a new one would have to be built to take its place. If this were the case, air travel would not be a reality for the public. Now that rockets can be reused like airplanes, a vast array of possibilities have been revealed. For some years now, SpaceX has made it a goal to get civilians into space. The reusability of rockets is a major first step to making commercial spaceflight possible.
SpaceX started 2018 off with a launch on Sunday, January 7. The rocket was carrying a classified satellite known as Zuma, for an unknown government agency. However, rumors have since arisen that the mission failed, and that the satellite malfunctioned once it reached orbit, before falling back to earth and burning up in the atmosphere. Neither SpaceX nor Northrop Grumman, who manufactured the satellite, have commented on the failure. However, SpaceX claims that the Falcon 9 rocket performed successfully, implying that if there was a failure, it was due to the satellite malfunctioning, not the rocket.
In other SpaceX news, the Falcon Heavy, a rocket which is essentially three Falcon 9’s side-by-side, is set to be launched sometime this year, with the date and time to be determined. SpaceX boasts that the Falcon Heavy will be “the most powerful rocket this generation has ever seen.” The rocket is designed to carry passengers, and according to SpaceX, will be the rocket that takes people to Mars. On January 23, the Falcon Heavy finally hit the launchpad.
photo courtesy of theverge.com