The hustle-and-bustle of Cape Canaveral came to a sudden halt this week. Engineers and technicians stood silent as SpaceX launched an orbital rocket for the second time. That feat had been elusive; the milestone is a huge leap for space commerce. Over the past five years, SpaceX may have spent as much as $1 billion in venture funding to fine-tune the technology required to recover and reuse the first stage or booster component of its rockets. The firm’s clients will benefit handsomely. Insiders suggest that the cost difference between using a new and recycled rocket for a basic satellite launch could be $20 million, if not more. Admittedly, SpaceX has not yet figured out how to save the entire rocket. But the piece that matters—the 14-story, engine-laden core on its Falcon9 model—can now be reliably reused. Other firms in the business are following suit with similar technology. Competition will likely compress launch costs even more. ■
Our Vantage Point: SpaceX is not the only company in the satellite-launch business, but its progress will drive industry-wide innovation. Space itself is fast moving beyond its heritage as a private reserve.
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Image: Expendable boosters were part of legacy space programs. Credit: Oledijo at Can Stock Photo Inc.