SpaceX is on a roll these past 5 days – Elon Musk’s Mars colony vision is one step closer to becoming a reality, there’s talk of opening a new company hub in Canada, and the secret payload on the first Falcon Heavy launch is the “silliest thing we can imagine”. Just days ago, Thursday, for the first time in its history, the aerospace company launched a fully reusable first stage of an orbital rocket. It was the launch of an SES-10 communications satellite to Earth orbit via a Falcon 9 rocket. After the launch, they have successfully landed the rocket onto a drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean. This was a key event toward the goal of reusable rocket components including the payload fairing of said rocket, and will immensely help Musk’s vision of commercial space-flights and ultimately Mars colonization.
The mission holds high hopes of an economically viable plan to colonize Mars: “”There needs to be at least a 100-fold, if not perhaps a 1,000-fold, reduction in the cost per ton to Mars — actually, maybe 10,000-fold… and reusability is absolutely fundamental to that goal,” Musk said in a conference, Thursday. The ultimate goal for reusability is 100 or more flights with only minor maintenance and, of course, refueling. Neil deGrasse Tyson is still a bit skeptical, as his comment after the launch was: “I’m not taking that trip until Elon Musk sends his mother and brings her back alive. Then I’m good for it.” His stance is shared by the naturally cautious big companies towards hugely expensive and dangerous endeavors: these offer a very uncertain return on investment and because of that would be considered a waste of money by the board of directors in any normal corporation today.
As with Dragon back in 2010., the SpaceX fascination with cheese is emerging again, as that is exactly what they will be launching to space on the debut Falcon Heavy launch, inspired by the famous Monty Python’s Cheese shop sketch. Musk announced this on Twitter, saying it was the silliest thing they could imagine. Well, you can’t beat cheese, that’s for sure. In an attempt to save resources, they plan to reuse two Falcon 9 cores as side boosters. The Falcon Heavy is a bit late in the company schedule because the core had to be redesigned along with some additional hardware. It’s not top priority at the moment but should be launched in late summer if everything pans out with the rest of the company schedule. Don’t keep your hopes up yet, as SpaceX is known for overestimating their delivery dates. What does constitute top priority for SpaceX now is developing toward commercial space flight.
Announced in February, SpaceX currently has a mission to send two people, tourists, around the Moon and back in 2018. Bobby Brown, dean of the Colledge of Engineering and Applied Science at Colorado-Boulder University has high hopes for this mission, comparing it, if successful, to the first commercial debut of the Boeing 707: “I think that 50 years from now we’ll look back on this day and that’s say where commercial space travel began.” Of course, a lot of time has passed since Boeing 707 and SpaceX is a serious potential aerospace competitor to the biggest companies in the industry today, including Boeing itself.
The South African-born millionaire has his eyes on Canada now, as he plans on opening a new company hub and a spaceport – in Canada. Canada is currently shamefully lacking in spaceports, and previously planned and proposed project have failed due to a lack of funds and available rockets modern enough for Canada’s needs. The country with the worlds longest coastline is very much dependent on satellite technology for connecting remote locations, telecommunications, navigation, weather forecasting etc. The country’s terrain and vastness has been in the way of a developed and strong infrastructure, so satellite technologies were actually the cheaper solution.
If all goes as planned, there could be a new constellation of more than 4000 telecommunications satellites in low earth polar orbit. Canada is mostly prepared for this, the country has the resources to pull it off, and all the company needs is a modest coastal property and a decent highway. No subsidies whatsoever. Their rocket reusability should result in 60-90% price drop for SpaceX flights which were already fairly competitive.