On SpaceX Succesfully Landing a Falcon 9 Booster

12/22/15 23:00:00    

By Michael Mealling

“Who wants to pass beyond Bojador, Must also pass beyond pain.” - “Mensagem”, Fernando Pessoa

Prior to 1434 a bump on the western coast of Africa known as Cape Bojador presented one of the greatest obstacles to European exploration of southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. A confluence of wind patterns and currents made it impossible for ships of the time to sail past that point. In 1434 Henry the Navigator convinced Portuguese mariner Gil Eanes to trust him and sail out beyond the sight of land where he found favorable winds that allowed him to easily explore southern Africa and eventually reach the Indian Ocean. One single voyage doing what others said was impossible was all that was needed to open up vast new trade routes for Europe and to kick off the Age of Exploration.

A modern equivalent happened this past Monday, December 21st, when SpaceX succesfully landed the Falcon 9 first stage booster back at its launch site. Succesfully returning a booster back to its launch site and landing it was something many thought was impossible. Now they have been proven wrong.

So why is this such an important milestone? Because fuel is cheap. Its the rocket that's expensive. Estimates are that the combined cost of the fuel for a Falcon 9 flight is less than half a million. Now, imagine that each time you take a flight on a Delta jet that they dumped it in the ocean when you finished with your flight. A Boeing 777-300ER costs $321 million and holds 300 people so your ticket would be at least $1.07 million.

Industy experts expect reusability to drop the cost of launch by at least one order of magnitude. SpaceX's unique business processes and technology have already cut prices by one order of magnitude. To put that in perspective, prior to SpaceX launch costs were in the $10,000 per pound range. A reusable Falcon 9 booster drops that to below $100 per pound. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told the Satellite Industry Forum in 2013 that a reusable Falcon 9 would cost between $5 million and $7 million per flight. Down from the current $61.2 million. Fundamental pricing changes like that make venture capitalists sit up and take notice.

Less than $100 per pound to fly to space. That's something the rest of us can afford. That's something that can enable a new business to be created that was impossible just a few years ago. At that price your local high school could send a mission to Mars. That opens up exploration and settlement of the solar system to everyone in much the same way that rounding the Cape of Bojador did in 1434.

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