The key to Space Sustainability

Hello everyone! Sorry it's been a huge gap since the last time I updated this thing. Life has been pretty hectic and there's quite a lot to share, but my personal stuff can wait because yet again, innovation has struck and the world is becoming a better place as a result.

I'm going to try to keep this post manageable but obviously you all know (YOU SHOULD KNOW) that SpaceX landed Falcon 9 v1.2 on a drone ship this afternoon. It's the second overall landing of a Falcon 9, however, it's the first landing on a drone. SpaceX has tried numerous times to land on a drone ship and all have ended spectacularly in a ball of fire... But with failure comes success. You see, engineers don't give up. Even though we may attempt to do the impossible, one of these times we'll figure out a way and this afternoon, the incredible launch operations and recovery team at SpaceX proved to all of us their true capabilities.

Now, to talk a little about sustainability. You and I know that space is going to be a reality. Perhaps not in the immidiate future, but defintely in my lifetime. (From a guy in his 20s). Building a rocket is expensive. About $60 million for just the hardware. Add another $300K for fuel and it becomes a pretty pricey thing to keep paying per launch. So sustainability completely hinges on reusability, something difficult to do on a vehicle which is essentially a controlled explosion. The Space Shuttle was a reusable vehicle for example. The only thing that wasn't reusable was the ET (external fuel tank) which disintegrated upon re-entering the Earth's atomsphere. The two solid rocket boosters fell to the ocean to get picked up and refurbished and the Space Shuttle itself landed with its crew and was refurbished to fly once again. However, financially it was a disaster. The man hours needed to refurbish a Space Shuttle was unbelievable, though, a proof of concept for sure.

Now take a first stage of a rocket. It's the biggest and most expensive part of the rocket. In the case of the Falcon 9, it's the tallest with the most amount of engines. Nine of them to be exact. Now imagine if you could re-use that piece which is essentially 70-80% of total cost. That's a tremendous savings with either small refurbishments throughout a lifespan and perhaps a few overhauls, just like your typical commercial airliner. That's exactly what SpaceX plans to do and now, it's a reality.

You may be thinking... Didn't SpaceX land a rocket in December? Yes. Yes they did. Also incredible, however, not practical. For LEO or Low-Eart-Orbit missions, the inclination is fairly high and the horizontal velocity (the speed at which you are moving across the ground) is low... This is relatively speaking of course. For example, today's CRS-8 mission required an orbit of around 240 miles in altitude and around 17,500mph. (Relatively speaking it's slow). So today, SpaceX could of landed back at the Cape, just like the December launch, however, in the long run, SpaceX needs to be able to land on their drone ships. Why? Well, LEO isn't the only orbit. For example, Geostationary orbits require an incredible velocity in order to reach the targeted altitude of somewhere around the 35,000 miles in altitude. And it's not about pointing the rocket straight up and going there, in order to reach those altitudes and orbit, you need an escape velocity to break free from Earth's pull. Therefore, a geostationary launch would be a low inclination launch which favors more horizontal velocity. It's perigee (lowest point in the orbit upon reaching space) will be nearer to 200km, though it's velocity would be incredibly fast so that's its apogee (highest point) would be that desired distance. It would trade off its velocity for altitude (conservation of energy, where kinetic enegery is being transferred over to potential due to height above the Earth, laws of physics still apply in space!!!) So in order to land a first stage reuturing from a geostationary mission, you need to land on a ship because it's physically too far away to return to its launching point. Perhaps in the future, we'll be able to return with higher performance rockets that use less fuel and can carry more but at this point in time, it's drone ship or you lose that first stage in the water.

So today is a fantastic day for Space but especially SpaceX. They deserve it. They need the recognition to be the first domino to push everyone else in this space game to move to sustainability and reusability.

Happy day indeed!

I'love update you guys more on my endeavors when I get a chance to. This was just too important so I wanted to get it out.

Love you all!

- Marco


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