The space shuttle was supposed to be a shuttle: it was supposed to be a vehicle that could trundle off to space, come back, get refueled, and then go back up again with a minimum of fuss or expense. That idea was thrown out the hatch almost immediately due to the shuttle's complicated, expensive nature, but the idea of an inexpensive space ferry that only needs a quick refueling between trips never went away. It's always been the goal of SpaceX to make this happen, which is why they've been gradually working up towards the two key milestones that took place this week.
First, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster that launched a Dragon supply capsule to the ISS managed to extend its landing legs and make a (relatively) soft, controlled landing upright in the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX is hoping to recover this rocket to see how it did, and eventually, they'll ask one to come back and touch down on dry land. Meanwhile, in Texas, a prototype of a fully reusable Falcon 9 made its first short hop, taking off and reaching an altitude of 250 meters before coming to an autonomous powered landing. Further testing in New Mexico will explore landings as part of flight profiles, all working up to a complete launch, landing, and launch cycle of a single reusable rocket sometime next year.
Every day, DVICE selects fresh images, videos and more from the wonderful world of technology. See them all by clicking this link.