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The beginning of a great era: SpaceX landed its Falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX did it.Tonight, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket took off into space, separated from the second stage, and then made a controlled return to the landing site in Florida. This historic flight marked the beginning of the orbital economy, promising the future of the extremely cheap space travel that Musk had been talking about for so long.

SpaceX has tried to land a rocket twiceon an autonomous unmanned barge. The first time the missile landed too hard and exploded on impact. The second attempt did not go so smoothly again, the rocket broke two legs and capsized. The third attempt, which took place at a newly designated landing site less than a mile from SpaceX's Florida refineries, went a little too smoothly.

“I was not completely sure that everything would pass.smooth, but I'm very happy about it, ”Musk said in a teleconference in response to a question from ArsTechnica. - 13 years have passed since the start of SpaceX. We have been so close so many times. I think people are overjoyed. "

On the broadcast of the landing attempt, whichwas carried out a couple of hours after sunset, a brilliant light appeared falling from the sky, and when the smoke cleared, the rocket was already on the ground. A few minutes earlier, the Falcon 9's first stage took off 200 kilometers into space from the coast of Florida using nitrogen-fueled pilot thrusters, made a sharp U-turn, fired the engines in a reverse ballistic arc, and finally headed towards Earth to re-enter the atmosphere. and land with the thrusters aimed at the ground, which should fire exactly at the time of landing.

While SpaceX employees watched this actionfrom their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, they began to cheer quietly, and then began chanting “SHH! USA!". SpaceX is one of two US companies that are building rockets to end NASA's dependence on Russian rockets to transport them to the International Space Station. However, SpaceX is unique in that neither its rockets nor its spacecraft rely on Russian suppliers.

The rocket launch was watched closely byseveral reasons. First, it marked SpaceX's successful return to flying following the crash of its Falcon 9 rocket in June. The company also launched 11 ORBCOMM communications satellites over Earth. In addition, an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket went into space.

The successful return of the first stage of the Falcon 9 overshadowed these developments.

In a sense, this mission marked the beginningnew space age. The promise of reusable launch vehicles has begun to take hold, which is important for expanding access to space. The SpaceX founder said it cost his company $ 60 million to build the Falcon 9 rocket. Fuel costs only $ 200,000. Thus, it is possible to reduce the cost of space flight by 10 or even 100 times.

Now the company needs to demonstrate that it canwhether she would fix the rocket stage at low cost and then start it up again. NASA's space shuttles were reusable, but required an entire army of staff to maintain them. SpaceX must demonstrate that it can do this effectively and consistently. However, the successful night landing was undoubtedly the most difficult stage.

“It makes you think about how to leadbusiness, says Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Space Flight Federation and a proponent of commercial human space travel. - This is the bottom line. Is there a better way to do space flight? It will appear if - and when - we can reuse missiles. We have now crossed out the "if" and "when". The rocket industry is changing. "

Musk has been at the forefront of companies seekingpush the boundaries of reuse, as even NASA has gone in the opposite direction with its new Space Launch Syste rocket. This rocket is completely disposable, including its four RS-25 engines. These same engines were reused after each space shuttle flight.

Starting SpaceX, Musk made it clear that histhe ultimate goal is to establish a colony on Mars, thereby ensuring the survival of the human race in the event of some kind of extinction on Earth. “This is an important step towards being able to create a city on Mars,” he said tonight. Reusability is essential for the Martian colony, as with disposable rockets, any kind of Mars development would be prohibitively expensive. "All for this."

SpaceX's achievement follows a successfulthe landing of the New Shepard by Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos. "Welcome to the club," the founder of the company tweeted shortly after SpaceX's flight.

However, it is worth noting that night flightThe Falcon 9 rocket was flowing twice as fast as the New Shepard flight, and at twice the speed of about Mach 7.5. This is not just a fall to Earth after a vertical launch - no, Falcon 9 flew hundreds of kilometers off the coast, then returned and landed. By doing so, it became the first orbital rocket in history to land successfully, and many others are likely to follow.