If you’ve ever watched a rocket launch, you can imagine a familiar picture. The rocket moves slowly upward as it gives off a large gush of smoke. As the rocket speeds up and shoots through the atmosphere, flames trail behind it. Eventually, a part of the rocket falls off, falling back towards the earth. This part of the rocket is called the booster. The booster provides the fuel necessary to get the rocket off the ground, and is dropped as dead weight. Traditionally, these boosters have fallen into the Atlantic Ocean, requiring a new booster be built for the next rocket.
SpaceX, a company based in California, has been working on getting these boosters to land right-side-up on a platform. After several successful attempts, they recently took one of these boosters and used it to launch a second rocket. Our expert, Amber Medina, a graduate student in the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, emphasizes that this saves 20 million dollars for each rocket launch. SpaceX says it intends to use the same booster for up to twenty or thirty launches.
News reports have emphasized the possibility of reusable boosters making it cheaper for companies to send satellites into orbit. In the future, the technology could enable space tourism or allow manned rockets to land on Mars. Medina also points out that, for taxpayer funded rockets, the savings will be reinvested into new missions and technology, allowing improvements in human life and knowledge here on earth.
Acknowledgments: Many Thanks to Amber Medina, for her help and advice in writing this article.
Managing Correspondent: Emily Kerr
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