SpaceX Rocket Landings are Now Boring and Thrilling at Once
The company's success has put a lull in excitement, but it's just temporary.
Why does SpaceX feel boring these days?
OK, maybe not boring but after a busy, objectively incredible weekend that featured two successful missions and two droneship landings of the Falcon 9 first stage boosters, it’s hard for the feats of Elon Musk’s aerospace company to feel as big as they once did, which is a little sad, of course, but when one thinks about how these landings are a stepping stone to greater things, it’s a little thrilling.
SpaceX wanted this summer to be the season in which it could show the world it could facilitate a stacked launch schedule. The ideal scenario was to launch rockets every two to three weeks, but the weekend is proof the company can, when it needs to, pull off these missions every two or three days.
Although NASA is still the undisputed emperor of space exploration, SpaceX has managed to steal the limelight over the past few years, thanks to an intoxicating recipe which includes:
- One Silicon Valley luminary in company CEO [Elon Musk]
- Regular helpings of sports-styled, media savvy live webcasts
- One vision humanity as a multi-planetary species whose ambition is only matched by its sincerity.
So why does it feel like every new launch is just a variation of the same song we’ve heard before?
You might say the company is a victim of its own rapid success. Back in 2014, the company only launched its Falcon 9 rocket six times. Three of those missions involved successful ocean touchdowns, but nothing that resulted in a salvageable booster. The next year, the world witnessed seven missions: two where the rocket exploded on droneship landing attempts, and one which experienced a cataclysmic in-flight explosion. It wasn’t until the last mission of 2015 in which the company finally pulled off a successful Falcon 9 booster landing on solid ground.
Since then, the company has launched 17 times, and only experienced three failed landing attempts, for a success rate of 80 percent. That includes the reuse and landing of two previously used boosters, and no failures for the entire 2017 year so far. At this point, SpaceX launches and landings are passé.
There is less and less of a fraught anticipation behind wondering if those missions are going to go smoothly or not. The company has experienced enough success and failure these days to know what it has to do to achieve a safe landing. And to that end, the launches are less of the spectacle they used to be.
Perhaps no company better mobiles the old Silicon Valley adage to “fail early, fail often.” And if that’s the case, the lull in drama surrounding SpaceX is surely just temporary.