`Welcome back, baby,’ hails `Iron Man’ Musk as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rocket lands safely on the history books
In June this year, when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded just after lift-off, there were criticisms that space exploration was not for the private sector. It was too difficult, dangerous, and expensive, said the critics. Six months later, the space industry is celebrating as the Falcon 9 launched 11 satellites into a low-earth orbit, while also landing the rocket booster back to earth vertically and softly . SpaceX achieved this feat from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Monday evening. The company , promoted by entrepreneur Elon Musk to accelerate low-cost access to space, achieved this feat in the third attempt. The earlier two attempts were at sea.Although the rocket reached the booster platform at sea, it did not land perfectly. This time, on solid land, it landed gently and a vertically to generous applause.The ability to bring back the first stage of a rocket is expected to reduce the costs of space travel considerably . Space agencies worldwide have various kinds of plans to do it, but it turned out to be a private sector company that did it first. About a month ago, that did it first. About a month a Blue Origin, the company floa ed by Jeff Bezos, landed the rocket back at its launch pad after going up by about just over 100 km.
Jeff Bezos tweeted a congratulatory message, but tongue in cheek, emphasising who did it first. However, the SpaceX rocket was on a regular commercial flight to launch 11 satellites, while the Blue Origin rocket went up to 100 km and then came back. The efforts of both companies are being watched in India as well. “Private sector players can make the feeling of space available to many people,“ says Subba Rao Pavuluri, founder and MD of Anant Technologies, a space engineering company in Hyderabad.
In the last few years, several private companies have come up to make low-cost access to space possible. They include, apart from SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic set up by the British entrepreneur Richard Branson. All of them dream about the big challenge of taking humans to Mars, but are also working on making space travel cheap and routine. “Once we bring vehicles back,“ says MA Kotwal, former L&T board member, “space transportation can take off.“
Space industry veterans say that it may be premature to celebrate SpaceX’s achievement. The booster stage of the rocket has to be examined and then flown again a few times to make the at tempt complete. But it is a matter of time before that happens. In a few decades, space travel may become as routine as air travel.