SpaceX, founded by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, has been developing their space programme to the point that almost every part of the rocket is now reusable. They normally land the first stage rockets, sometimes on land and at other times at sea, depending on the trajectory.
The most amazing thing I've recently seen is two boosters landing side by side at Cape Canaveral as shown in the video below and as you can hear from the soundtrack, the SpaceX team got quite excited about it too.
They're even trying to catch the fairings that surround the satellite payloads during launch and are nearer and nearer to landing them in a huge net attached to a ship called Mr Steven. The two separate fairing parts gently float down to Earth using parachutes and the big net gives them a soft dry landing.
But the technology that I'm in love with is the Crew Dragon capsule which is currently undergoing certification for manned space flight by NASA. The Crew Dragon will be used to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station and is capable of a controlled, rocket-powered landing as well.
But ... and this is a huge but ... although it is capable of rocket-powered landing, and therefore doesn't need a parachute system, getting it certified to do that would take a lot more time and money to make happen, so for now, SpaceX is going to bring the Crew Dragon home the old-fashioned way and let it float down into the sea using parachutes.
Elon has said that the capsule will be refurbished and reused, but wouldn't it be cheaper to refurbish a capsule that landed on land than one that landed in a salty, wet ocean? Still, economics and time play their part here, so I guess the old phrase "It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough" applies.
The built-in rockets will be used for abort escapes, so they still have a good use. SpaceX says that not landing using rockets means they don't need holes in the heat shield for the landing legs, so it is definitely a safety issue highlighted by NASA which has stopped this. But wouldn't it be amazing to see a Crew Dragon capsule landing back on Earth under its own power?
NASA also had to come to an agreement regarding the 'load-and-go' fuelling process for SpaceX rockets. You see, NASA has always loaded their rocket fuel well before the astronauts embark the rocket. However, Spac X loads the fuel afterwards.
The SpaceX method, although supposedly more efficient, was deemed to be more dangerous when a component failed on a recent Falcon 9 and it blew up on the launchpad destroying not just the rocket, but an expensive communications satellite.
But they've got past this and with a few modifications to the SpaceX rocket innards and a tweak or two to the procedures for fuelling, NASA has given the go-ahead for load-and-go fuelling and it looks like the Crew Dragon will be ready to fly soon.
SpaceX has been using the cargo version of the Dragon capsule to send supplies up to the ISS over the past few years and with the Crew Dragon ready for its first manned test in April 2019 the march back to manned spaceflight from the US continues after depending on Russia since the Shuttle was retired a number of years ago.
But the video above shows SpaceX's ultimate destination. Using the "Big Falcon Rocket" or BFR as it's commonly known (people sometimes replace the F with a swear word), SpaceX aims to get people to Mars within the next 20 years, and the Crew Dragon and all the associated technology they're developing now are in pursuit of that goal.
It's a lofty goal, yet it is realistically achievable. The SpaceX Crew Dragon is part of that relentless march ahead and I look forward to it launching in the near future.