SpaceX, a private aeronautics company that has successfully completed several missions to the International Space Station, plans to manufacture spacecraft that land rather than splash down, and rockets with first stages that return to Cape Canaveral. The company’s chief designer, Elon Musk, aims to produce the spacecraft by the end of 2014.
The company’s newest spacecraft model design, the Falcon 9, is 60-70% more powerful than the current rocket. It will debut in late November 2013. SpaceX hopes to make first-stage ocean recoveries before attempting powered landings at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Though Musk does not expect immediate success with the prototypes, he is optimistic that SpaceX will be able to return first stage rockets to their launch sites using landing legs and propulsive landing technology.
SpaceX’s Dragon 2 spacecraft, featuring these landing capabilities, could be a huge breakthrough in the space exploration industry. Rockets with the capability to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land rather than splashing down, would mean huge cuts in costs. It could also mean fully reusable spacecraft and launch systems.
Officials at NASA expect to have operational versions of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft by 2017, though SpaceX says it could be sooner, indicating that piloted versions could be up and running by 2015.
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