It may seem a long shot, but when SpaceX successfully landed a spent first stage rocket on a barge overnight, it had implications for Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) project.
What SpaceX brought much closer to real life is a huge reduction in the launch costs of satellites, including the constellation of 4000 low-orbit, low-latency satellites that could carry a cheap, global, transborder internet service.
And SpaceX says that is coming to the sky above you sometime in the next decade, maybe.
SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, the entrepreneur driving the Tesla electric car and Solar City high-capacity home battery businesses, has carefully qualified his sky broadband vision on a number of occasions, but low-cost, large-scale satellite launching technology keeps it up there in lights.
Totally portable, ubiquitous, inexpensive and fast space-based broadband, out of reach of national borders and regulation, is the ultimate — and inevitable — enemy of fixed land-based investments in broadband, which, in the case of the NBN, are already partially obsolete, with obsolescence a guaranteed factor for the rest of its enormously costly but no doubt shortened life.
The SpaceX barge landing success involved the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, which launched its Dragon reusable spacecraft, also designed to carry space workers on an unmanned supply mission to the International Space Station.
The best of the early reports on this success is in The Verge. The Verge report explains why sea landings for the spent first stage are preferable to land recoveries, and points out that at a cost of US$60 million per Falcon rocket, being able to recover and refurbish these rockets for future use could enable cost savings of up to 30% for each launch.
When first-stage rockets fall back to Earth they don’t undergo the destructive forces, including intense thermal loads, of second-stage rockets, where the thin rocket casing is set on fire and torn apart. However, manoeuvering even a comparatively lower-velocity first-stage rocket into performing a totally unnatural full reverse-mode descent shortly before slamming into a heaving barge, and then lowering it on a cradle of flame to a non-destructive standstill is … quite the marvel.
Which raises the thought that perhaps in the future, SpaceX might also try and recover second-stage rocket motors, as distinct from the entire assembly, using the sort of technology its launcher rival Airbus has proposed in its Adeline project. Just an idle thought.