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SpaceX set to try HOVER LANDING for re-usable rockets on March ISS mission

Landing legs fitted to Falcon-Dragon first stage

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'New technology', 'disruptive', 'game changing'. No, this time it really could be

That's a pretty impressive claim - but it looks as though the company and Musk believe what they say. Next month's ISS resupply launch will not only send a Dragon supply capsule to the ISS; it seems entirely possible that the first stage will come down hovering to a soft landing on a precise spot out at sea.

If it does, that would be a big step towards the dream of re-usable boosters, so long discussed but with so little ever really done. Once SpaceX has a solid record of accurate setdowns at sea, it will have a strong case to be permitted to bring its Falcons down on pads ashore, as the Grasshopper already does.

It's worth mentioning here that the Dragon capsule currently lands at sea too (though just being able to come down intact is pretty good: European Automated Transfer Vehicles on ISS supply runs must be thrown away to burn up in the atmosphere after use). However Musk and SpaceX are upgrading it with rockets which can be used either as an escape system in the event of a launch disaster with astronauts aboard - or to land the capsule vertically on a pad after re-entry.

So there has to be a strong possibility at the very least that in a few years' time when you see a SpaceX rocket launch, most or even all of the mighty stack will later finish up coming in to a soft landing and get used again - unlike today's launches where you can be sure that all the million-dollar hardware on show is going to be destroyed violently after just one use.

SpaceX already charges the lowest prices in the launch business. Imagine how low its tariff could go if it had mostly- or fully-reusable launch hardware and spacecraft. That would be game-changing stuff indeed.

Comment

It's possible to be sceptical about Elon Musk's other new-tech ventures, the Tesla Motors electric car firm and solar panel outfit SolarCity. The business that made him rich to begin with, PayPal, is a decent idea but hardly Earth-shaking.

But there can't really be any doubt that with SpaceX the phrases "new technology", "disruptive", "game changing" etc - so freely applied to any "tech" venture down to and including apps that manage your cat's web presence - are actually genuinely appropriate for once.

If Musk and SpaceX carry on the way they have so far, a lot of things that have long been little more than dreams - receding dreams, it has sometimes seemed - are likely to start actually happening. Humanity might just start reaching out beyond Earth orbit in a serious way at last.

So it's good luck next month from the Reg space desk, Mr Musk and all at SpaceX. ®

Bootnote

*There are of course certain exceptions such as the main engines of the Space Shuttle, which were re-used although much of the rest of the launch stack (fuel tank and strap-on boosters) was not. NASA has now abandoned even this, however, and plans to use similar engines in the throwaway Space Launch System.

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