SpaceX has successfully launched, maneuvered and landed a Falcon 9 rocket, a big step toward the creation of reliable, reusable spacecraft.
Space exploration is an expensive endeavor, in no small part because of the cost of the vehicles needed to actually get there. A Falcon 9 rocket runs about $54 million to build, according to SpaceX, while the fuel costs just $200,000, yet the rocket is only used once.
"Compare that to a commercial airliner. Each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime," SpaceX says on its website. "Following the commercial model, a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of reaching Earth orbit by a hundredfold."
The development of a reliable, reusable rocket would represent an absolute sea change in the nature of space exploration, in other words, which is what makes this "lateral divert" test so important. It's very preliminary, but it demonstrates that these things can be launched, controlled and landed - and then topped-off and put up again.
And preliminary or not, it's an extraordinary feat. The Falcon 9 is more than ten stories tall and balances on more thrust than five pedal-to-the-metal 747s. Keeping it from angling off and crashing into somebody's back yard - much less demonstrating controlled flight - is nothing short of astounding. The future is a wonderful thing.
Source: SpaceX YouTube channel