On 30 Mar. 2017, SpaceX reused a rocket first stage, the largest bottom portion used to initially launch the payload off the ground. The Falcon 9 lifted off from pad 39 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, with the first stage landing on a barge 8 minutes after launch.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched on 30 March 2017 had been previously flown-lofting the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on 8 April 2016. Following the landing, the rocket was refurbished and re-tested to ensure the reliability of all systems. The Falcon 9 was then integrated with a new second stage, test fired once more, and then had the SES 10 satellite installed and prepared for launch.
For Junior Miles Durnwirth, a team lead for RAHS Satellite Team, the SpaceX launch is just one more step toward commercial space travel. Satellite team will be following in the space industry’s footsteps when they launch and land their payload in the near future.
“Being able to reuse spacecraft is the next step to make space travel common,” said Durnwirth. “We are doing the same thing in Satellite team, though on a smaller scale: we are making a reusable weather balloon payload to test our systems for the satellite that will be launching next year.”
SpaceX aims to lower the cost of spaceflight by developing reusable rockets, with the hope of making commercial spaceflight as easy as buying a plane ticket.
“That’s great for SpaceX because it’s going to lower the cost of launching things into orbit,” said Durnwirth. “The most expensive part of launching a rocket is the rocket part, so by reusing the first stage, it allows them to greatly decrease their launch cost.”
Unlike SpaceX other launch providers, such as United Launch Alliance, and Russia’s Roscosmos allow their rockets to disintegrate in the atmosphere after launching payloads.
“Most rockets are expendable, means that they fall in the ocean after their flight,” said Durnwirth. “By reusing the first stage, spaceflight can become more and more like the airlines.”
Junior Josh Sherbrooke, flight software lead on the Satellite Team, sees how the SpaceX launch can potentially lower the cost for students to launch their satellite, even in the near future.
“Right now, spaceflight costs tens of thousands of dollars per pound,” said Sherbrooke. “What SpaceX is doing is to try and reduce that price, so that anyone could launch a satellite.”
The SpaceX launch is a leap beyond previous accomplishments in reusable space flight, which is especially encouraging for the Satellite Team that is looking to launch a small satellite in the next year.
“Blue Origin has been launching and landing suborbital rockets, meaning that they only stay in space for less than 10 minutes,” said Sherbrooke. “While this is an impressive feat, SpaceX has taken it one step further by launching and landing orbital rockets, which allow payloads to circle the earth.”
The recent launch is a compelling reason for the Satellite team to consider launching with SpaceX over other launch providers.
“SpaceX [is] working towards lowering launch costs also allows Satellite Team to reach our goal easier; we don’t need to fundraise as much to launch our cubesat,” said Sherbrooke “We don’t know what launch provider we are flying with, but if SpaceX continues down this path, we will most likely be flying with them.”
Satellite team hopes to see more progress in commercial space travel in the near future and looks forward to their launch sometime next year.
“I’m really excited to see what they are going to do in the future,” said Sherbrooke. “The future certainly seems bright for space travel.”