French aerospace company Airbus announced its plans to build a reusable rocket, (well, partly reusable) named Adeline, to deliver supplies and people into low-earth orbit. The future of commercial spaceflight depends on someone cracking this, and now no fewer than six companies are now trying to get in on the reusable spacecraft game—and a few are already practically there.
The incentives are obvious: Reusable spacecraft will dramatically lower the cost of getting things into space. If you don’t have to build a new rocket or a new crew capsule every time you blast off, space travel becomes a question of mere fuel efficiency. That’ll make it much more feasible for companies to deliver things like satellites into orbit and people to the International Space Station…and beyond, if we’re to trust Elon Musk’s vision for our Mars-colonizing future.
Some companies are focusing on developing reusable spaceplanes that will function much like NASA’s partially-reusable shuttles did, transporting space tourists and astronauts to their (hopefully not final) destinations. Others are focusing on the delivery model.
Many of these plans (particularly from Space X) rely on inventing new and difficult technology, and one wonders if UK outfit Starchaser Industries hasn’t got it right with the simplicity of using parachutes rather than spending hundreds of millions developing something new. However, Named after Alan Shepard (the first American in space) the New Shepard is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’s foray into the reusable rocket market. Bezos’s company Blue Origin ran the reusable rocket’s first test flight on April 29 this year, successfully launching and recovering the crew capsule but failing to recover the rocket.
New Shepard shepherded its capsule to about 58 miles in altitude before detaching and attempting a vertical landing. “Unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent,” Bezos wrote in an announcement.
We all know of Space X’s famous landing attempts for their rocket booster…you do have the feeling that they’re going to crack this one day, but I wonder what the total bill will be for development? The fact is that developing a new technology such as that is only the domain of billionaires such as Musk, but watch this space…