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Elon Musk, rocket science, space travel, what more could you want? On the 8th of April 2016 the futuristic company Space X sent a rocket into space and landed it back on earth safe and sound. This is impressive in itself, since the whole space exploration thing came about rockets have been expendable, they’ve been one trick ponies.

Every time a rocket goes up the really expensive bits get lost in space or they fall back down and break up in the ocean. Until now this was acceptable, the rocket has to reach around 7.5 kilometres per second to escape earth’s gravity causing a hell of a lot of heat, pressure and acceleration, so we could let those ones slide.

the rocket has to reach around 7.5 kilometres per second to escape earth’s gravity

Generally there are two parts of a rocket, the first stage, the engines, fuel tanks and the bulk of the ship and the second stage, the payload. We have re-landed parts of space craft before like parts of the space station, important data and other payloads like that but they have all been relatively small and in-expensive they were landed using parachutes or wings.

Basic launch diagram of a space shuttle into orbit with stage one parachuting to the ground.
The Old Way of Doing it. Source: Flickr

What space X has done is they’ve landed the first stage, the big expensive bit, using a technique called retro-propulsion. (Yes this is rocket science.) Which essentially uses left over fuel from take-off and grated flaps on the side of the vessel to combat gravity on the way down, using complex feedback control systems it is able to make small adjustments and guide itself back to earth safely and efficiently.

This alone is impressive but Space X have done that 8 times now. So yea whatever, old news, but last month they did it again, with a rocket that had already gone to space. They re-launched the second rocket they ever re-landed. They launched a rocket that had come back from space! Let that sink in.

Rocket lit up by the launch pad
Space X Rocket Moments Before Launch

This is a huge deal! The forces involved in launching a rocket at all are ridiculous, the first stage alone exerts approximately 8,227,000 Newtons of thrust. Even wile e coyote would have trouble surviving that one, the heat produced would over cook your steak in milliseconds and the pressures involved are downright obscene.

Building these rockets is an expensive enterprise, the fuel, the engines, the near indestructible materials, the control systems and so much more costs hundreds of millions of pounds to make. Bringing these rockets back for reuse will save so much money, space travel becomes cheaper, more accessible and ever closer to what we see in science fiction.

8,227,000 Newtons of thrust. Even wile e coyote would have trouble surviving that one

Elon Musk and his Space X team have made history, but more than that they’ve made the next reasonably large leap for mankind. With this we move towards space exploration, towards affordable space travel, to not only being closer to realising childhood dreams of space but to being able to help the planet from the outside. The benefits of cheaper launches and more affordable space technologies are boundless. I for one cannot wait to see what is next.

You can’t wait for more either? Well look for more below by the same author or maybe you want to hear more about different Elon Musk things, so have a look at this one, Holy Belcher looks at a TED talk that discusses the possibility of your kids living on Mars!

Or if you just want more space stuff read this one where the Exepose’s own Graham Moore looks into the paper work being composed with the help of Exeters own for guarding the galaxy.

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