Pin It

The age of reusable space launchers has finally arrived. SpaceX’s first successful vertical landing of its Falcon 9 first stage, on a surplus pad at Cape Canaveral after an orbital mission Dec. 21, is a potent illustration of the creativity and perseverance of commercial enterprise. Profit is a powerful motivating force for progress.

That historic accomplishment quickly followed Blue Origin’s successful vertical landing of its New Shepard suborbital booster on its second test flight from West Texas on Nov. 23. Nor should we forget the flight to the edge of space of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne and the rapid reflight that allowed it to claim the Ansari X Prize in 2004. 

Together, these achievements foretell a new era in spaceflight, one in which reusability will make access to space more affordable and routine. And others in the New Space world are fast on their heels. The promise is that someday spaceflight will be like aviation.

It is tempting to paint this story in high-contrast colors—the clever and plucky entrepreneurs besting the dull and lethargic government agencies and their cosseted contractors. But that would be a vast oversimplification. While the vision and financial resources of tech billionaires like Elon Musk, Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos may be enabling the new age, their companies stand on the shoulders of decades of government-funded research and development, in rocket engines and, notably, the 1990s’ vertical-takeoff-and-landing DC-X, the Delta Clipper funded by the Defense Department.

To read more, click here.