Monday, January 18, 2016

So close!

So close!  Yesterday SpaceX attempted to land a Falcon 9 on a barge off the coast of California (after a launch from Vandenburg Air Force Base).  This was challenging for several reasons, not least of which was weather that had the barge heaving and rolling.  Nevertheless, as you can see in the video at right, the landing itself went perfectlyAfter the rocket successfully touched down, one of the landing legs collapsed and the rocket fell over and exploded.

On the one hand, this must be very disappointing for the SpaceX team.  Of course they want the landing to be completely successful.  On the other hand, this was crazy-close to being that complete success.  So much went well that I have utterly no doubt that they will not only succeed one of these fine days, but they'll make it routine – and in the process, drastically reduce the cost of putting satellites into orbit.

From one perspective this is a fine story about the power of capitalism.  With a budget that is minuscule by NASA standards, SpaceX has (almost) done what NASA proclaimed impossible with any budget: made a reusable vertical-launch orbital-capable rocket.  One can quibble about the “subsidies” SpaceX is getting (in the form of launch contracts), but no matter how you look at it, those capitalists are giving us far more bang for the buck than the NASA technocrats ever did...

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