Although there were many great scientific breakthroughs in 2015, the most exciting for some came at the tail end of it. Space X's landing of a first stage rocket booster after separation represents a real turning point in space travel efficiency and thankfully, it looks like the rocket touched down successfully without damage, which means it will soon be ready to fly again.
This news was confirmed in the early hours of this morning by Space X CEO Elon Musk, along with an image of the slightly dirtier looking booster in a hanger somewhere. Even the stars and stripes made it back in near perfect condition.
This represents the first time that a truly re-usable part of an orbital-capable space-craft has been returned to Earth safely. Although the Space Shuttle program was designed to be re-usable, it required so many part replacements and repairs after each trip that it was not possible to truly benefit from any cost savings. It's hoped that the Falcon 9 will require no such retooling.
Granted it will need a wash and perhaps a fresh lick of paint in a few areas, but as long as no major parts need to be replaced, this could represent an enormous saving on orbital insertion rocketry. Standard Falcon 9 rocket costs are now more than $60 million per launch, and Dragon deliveries to the ISS are in excess of $130 million. Cutting a few tens of millions from that price-tag would make space travel much more economical.
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KitGuru Says: Glad to see the booster returned safely. A few more launches like this and Space X can put more effort behind recovering the second stage too.