Elon Musk started SpaceX to change how humans go to space. And last Friday, he proved that he's doing just that.
That's because the April 23 launch of the Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was the first time ever that a human crew was sent into space using a recycled spacecraft. Specifically, the mission used a recycled Falcon 9 rocket and a recycled Crew Dragon capsule. Watch it take off below.
Liftoff of Falcon 9 and Dragon! pic.twitter.com/g6Oi8qwU2Y
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 23, 2021
Tests pay off
But maybe you're not all that impressed? After all, rockets launch all the time, right? Yes, but not like this.
This achievement comes after years and years of tests of SpaceX's reusable prototypes. Not to mention decades of nearly every spacecraft being a single-use vehicle (the one big exception being the Space Shuttle).
Along the way, there have been plenty of crashes and explosions of the automated test launches. But the final success has been well worth all of the effort. Because this landmark moment really is a game changer.
Big time reductions
Recycled rockets reduce costs because you don't need an entirely new rocket for every launch. The cost per astronaut for each space launch has gone from about $86 million US when using Russia's Soyuz system to $56 million with the Falcon 9. So still far from cheap! But on a four-person mission, that's a savings of $120 million!
The reusable rockets also reduce waste, because we're no longer jettisoning 'dead' pieces into orbit (creating what is known as space junk) or dumping the old rockets into the ocean to be retreived.
And maybe most interesting, launches can potentially happen more frequently, too. This is not because the rockets can just go right back up after they land, though. Once it returns to Earth, the Falcon 9 must be refurbished—cleaned and serviced to make sure it is safe for another go. Currently, this process takes about 50 days. But ...
There are more than just a few Falcon 9 rockets out there. So even if you have some ready for launch and some being refurbished, it's still easier to always have some rockets ready to go when you don't need to constantly build brand new ones for every launch. And as NASA and SpaceX get more familiar with these rockets, they can probably begin to speed the refurbishment process up, too. This is still all such new technology, after all!
But it is now technology that has changed space travel forever!