SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced during a press conference on Friday that his Falcon 9 rocket has achieved a major milestone: the boost stage portion of the rocket has successfully achieved a soft landing in the Atlantic ocean, indicating that the technology to land and reuse rockets and rocket parts is maturing. However, Musk said that because of stormy seas, the boost stage was mostly destroyed by the movement of the waves.
Musk said this was the first time in 12 years that SpaceX was able to achieve this beyond a test environment and that the moment was “a huge milestone for SpaceX and the space industry.” Even though the boost stage–a part of the rocket that returns to Earth after launch instead of traveling into space–was destroyed in the ocean, Musk said the data they received indicated that the legs of the boost stage were deployed and that it sat there vertically for about 8 seconds. Musk said they have a video feed of the landing and that they’re trying to clean it up and post it on their website shortly.
The milestone is important because it is a step toward enabling space travel with reusable rockets and parts of rockets. The boost stage is about 70 percent of the cost of the launch, said Musk. Musk said in the press conference that what SpaceX has done so far up to this point has been evolutionary, but that reusable space travel is revolutionary and would lead to a 100 fold improvement in access to space.
Musk said that he is optimistic that a boost stage of a rocket could land on land back at Cape Canaveral by the end of the year. He thinks SpaceX will be able to re-fly the main boost stage, after a few months of refurbishment, by next year. Eventually SpaceX wants to be able to reuse the boost stage of the rocket rapidly after it lands.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a week ago carrying cargo bound for the International Space Station.
Musk also said during the press conference that SpaceX has filed a law suit against the U.S. Air Force to push it to open up competition for national security-related rocket launches.