December 1, 2022
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How Do the SpaceX Rockets Land Themselves Back on Earth?

How Do the SpaceX Rockets Land Themselves Back on Earth

It has always been unfeasible, complicated, expensive, and, worst of all, run totally by the government. So, even if one had an insane amount of money, people couldn’t think about going into space. And there are many specific reasons, of which one specific reason stands out in the crowd.

Unlike a bus, train, or conventional passenger aircraft, a rocket is used to be developed for “a single time” use. So, “A single time use” is the reason which made everything super expensive.

Between the years 1970 and 2000, the average cost of payload sent to space was $18,500 per kilogram!

According to NASA, sending one pound of payload in Earth’s orbit would cost around $10,000 back in 2008 because the space shuttles were more expensive, costing a tremendous $500 million per launch. And they used to carry about 50,000 pounds of payload. So, for instance, if someone wanted to send 50 pounds of apples to the International Space Station, the apple would eventually cost $500,000 or half a million dollars.

Well, SpaceX – a spacecraft manufacturer and space launch provider, found a way to deal with this challenge. They knew how to reduce space travel costs by reusing rocket boosters. The scenario before A company named SpaceX was founded. Their idea was to make space travel less expensive and more feasible for all of us.

But the big question is, HOW?? How on earth could someone do that?

Overview of SpaceX

SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded in 2002. From the very beginning, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, wanted to create inexpensive reusable rockets with travel characteristics similar to current commercial airlines.

Overview of SpaceX

So, SpaceX found a way of reusing rockets by landing themselves back on earth, thus saving a lot of expense, and Falcon 9 turned out to be 4–10 times less costly than that of NASA. The cost across space systems is determined by a standard industry metric called “cost per kilogram.” The average cost per kilogram for SpaceX Falcon Heavy was $1,400 US dollars, which was 700 times cheaper than the first family of NASA’s rockets and 4 times more affordable than the human-crewed mission in 1969.

SpaceX started with the challenge of making its rockets reusable, and many failed attempts ultimately paved the way to triumph. The first three rocket launches failed dramatically. And yet, Elon Musk continued to invest more of his own money. Eventually, extremely well-engineered rockets with experience played an essential role in the successful launch. One key aspect was to gain landing accuracy, which took time and effort!

Falcon 9 Landing

So, the landing process for Falcon 9 rockets included six steps.

It was pretty challenging because Falcon 9 was like a fourteen-story piece of a tube made of aluminum-lithium alloy. So, it was huge and tall, and the engineers at SpaceX had to land it vertically.

Besides, the first-stage booster on the Falcon 9 rocket accounts for more than half of the launch cost. So, reusing the first-stage booster was crucial to decrease launch costs significantly. Let’s look at the steps.

Falcon 9 rocket reusing steps
Source: Wikipedia

  • The first step: When Falcon 9 leaves the atmosphere, its first stage separates from the second stage. And this happens at least 50 miles high from the ground. Then, after splitting the first stage, it coasts for another 50 miles to slow down.
  • The Second Step: This is the phase where it starts descending with its bottom facing the ground.
  • The Third Step: Their booster engines are turned on. These engines work hard to guide Falcon 9 toward the landing site. At this point, it might travel at around 3,000 miles per hour.
  • The Fourth Step: This is the phase where grid fins are deployed to stabilize the rocket. The center engine is turned on, and supersonic retropulsion begins. The rocket starts to become wholly vertical and starts to slow down more.
  • The Fifth Step: The rocket is almost on its way to landing itself now. The last engine starts working, so the descending speed comes down to five miles per hour.
  • The Sixth Step: The rocket now lands. The engineers start to secure it because it needs special recovery after the landing. The entire process is amazingly controlled. And there’s no scope for any mishap.

Final Thought

Reusable launch vehicles in SpaceX missions consist of many stages. But while “the launch and flight” part is pretty regular, the landing is the FUN part! And SpaceX mastering the art of reusable rockets is a revolution because it allows a rocket or a spaceship with cargo, passengers, or any payloads, can quickly reenter land back on Earth and be ready for the next flight within a short time.

SpaceX has seen more than 100 successful landings of their rockets, and they still need to be finished! At this stage, space scientists must recognize the potential impact SpaceX can make in the future. So, let’s see what’s the next big thing SpaceX offer!!

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