Reusable launch system
A reusable launch system is a launch system that includes the recovery of some or all of the component stages. To date, several fully reusable suborbital systems and partially reusable orbital systems have been flown.
The first reusable launch vehicle to reach orbit was the Space Shuttle, which was not able to accomplish the intended goal of reducing launch costs to below those of expendable launch systems. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, said if one can figure out how to reuse rockets like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred.
During the 21st century, commercial interest in reusable launch systems has grown considerably, with several active launchers. The SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has a reusable first stage and capsule (for Dragon flights) and expendable second stage, The Spaceship Company has flown reusable suborbital spaceplanes, and the suborbital Blue Origin New Shepard rocket has recoverable first stages and crew capsules.
Expendable rockets air launched from aircraft can be considered partially reusable if the aircraft is thought of as the first stage of the launch vehicle. An example of this configuration is the Northrop Grumman Pegasus.
Vehicles that land horizontally on a runway require wings and undercarriage. These typically consume about 9-12% of the landing vehicle mass, which either reduces the payload or increases the size of the vehicle. Concepts such as lifting bodies offer some reduction in wing mass, as does the delta wing shape of the Space Shuttle.
Vertical landings can be accomplished either with parachutes (as with Soyuz) or propulsively. The DC-X is an example of a propulsive lander, and the Falcon 9 rocket is the first orbital rocket to vertically land its first stage on the ground. This typically requires about 10% of the total first stage propellant, reducing the payload that can be carried due to the rocket equation.
Reuse hardware/landing propellant
Reusable stages weigh more than equivalent expendable stages. This is unavoidable due to the supplementary systems, landing gear and/or surplus propellant needed to land a stage. The actual mass penalty depends on the vehicle and the return mode chosen.
Early ideas of a single-stage reusable spaceplane proved unrealistic and although even the first practical rocket vehicles (V-2) could reach the fringes of space, reusable technology was too heavy. In addition many early rockets were developed to deliver weapons, making reuse impossible by design. The problem of mass efficiency was overcome by using multiple expendable stages in a vertical-launch multistage rocket. The first reusable stages did not appear until the advent of the US Space Shuttle in 1981.
NASA started the Space Shuttle design process in the late 1960s, with the vision of creating a fully reusable spaceplane using a crewed fly-back booster for the 1970s. This design proved too expensive and complex to develop in time, therefore the design was scaled back to use reusable solid rocket boosters and an expendable external tank. The Shuttle proved much more expensive to operate over its 30 year lifetime than an expendable launch system would have been.
NASA proposed risky reusable concepts to replace the Shuttle technology, to be demonstrated under the X-33 and X-34 programs, which were both cancelled in the early 2000s due to rising costs and technical issues.
The Ansari X Prize contest was intended to develop private suborbital reusable vehicles. Many private companies competed, with the winner, Scaled Composites, reaching the Kármán line twice in a two-week period with their reusable SpaceShipOne.
On 23 November 2015 the New Shepard rocket became the first Vertical Take-Off/Landing (VTOL) sub-orbital rocket to reach space by passing the Kármán line (100 km or 62 mi), reaching 329,839 ft (100,535 m) before returning for a propulsive landing.
The first Falcon 9 second flight occurred on 30 March 2017. SpaceX now routinely recovers and reuses their first stages, with the intent of reusing fairings as well.
As of May 2020[update], the only operational reusable orbital-class launch systems are the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, the latter of which is based upon the Falcon 9. SpaceX is also developing the fully reusable Starship launch system, and Blue Origin is developing its own New Glenn reusable orbital rocket.
List of active reusable launch systems
|Blue Origin||New Shepard||US||Suborbital||Prototype||Under development. Will launch no earlier than 2021.|
|ISRO||RLV-TD||India||Suborbital||Project||Successful flight test|
|Virgin Galactic||SpaceShipTwo||US||Suborbital||Prototype||Designed for space tourism.|
|SpaceX||Falcon 9||US||Orbital||Operational||First stage and fairing reusable.|
|SpaceX||Falcon Heavy||US||Orbital||Operational||Core, side boosters and fairing reusable.|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Reusable manned spacecraft.|
- Illustration of a Space Shuttle at takeoff and Orbiter (Visual Dictionary - QAInternational)