Friday, September 30, 2011

Reusable


Back in Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration plans to issue permits for testing SpaceX's Grasshopper vehicle at their McGregor test site. SpaceX will also be building launch facilities here in Texas, preparing for a 3-year test program. Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 1st stage tank, a Merlin 1-D engine, four landing legs, and additional tankage. The tests would culminate in Grasshopper lifting off and landing vertically.

Through the miracle of reusable airplanes, we can travel inexpensively from Texas to Washington DC. Yesterday September 29 here in Washington, SpaceX's Elon Musk spoke to us at the National Press Club. He revealed that SpaceX is working on a fully reusable version of the Falcon 9-Dragon combo. As seen in this 4-minute video, the first and second stages would both return to land vertically. The Dragon spacecraft, upon completion of it's mission, would reenter and land using it's escape engines.

A fully reusable spacecraft has been a dream since early concepts of the Space Shuttle. Original concepts for Shuttle visualized a two-stage vehicle with a winged flyback booster. The risk and development costs led to the solid boosters and expendable tank. If every piece could be flown again, Elon estimates that costs per launch could decrease a hundredfold. With today's technology,Elon thinks that a fully reusable booster can finally become reality.

The Falcon Heavy would use 3 parallel Falcon 9 first stages to lift up to 53 tons into orbit. Could Falcon Heavy also be made fully reusable? That would greatly decrease the costs of Heavy Lift. NASA is presently designing a Space Launch System using components adapted from Shuttle to launch 70 tons and up into orbit. A fully reusable launcher would give NASA and SLS some serious competition.