Our bicycles are not ‘use and throw’, then why are our rockets?

Vanshika Dhyani asks “What does it really mean to be a successful rocket company in the 21st century?”

The new space age has taken over the pop culture with marvellous human and robotic accomplishments and sometimes with equally bizarre conspiracy theories. Which space exploration organizations are on the rise, you ask? It looks like reusability is the new black, when it comes to age old space race. SpaceX, Blue Origin and ISRO are revolutionising the space industry with their ambitious plans to build reusable rockets and rocket parts. SpaceX’s ‘Big Falcon Rocket’ is a completely reusable launch vehicle with spacecraft system. Blue Origin is working away on its two-stage rocket: The New Glenn; while ISRO’s RLV-TD has successfully completed its first atmospheric test flight as at 23 May 2016. Even though the European Space Agency, the Russian Roscosmos and the Chinese National Space Agency all plan to advance into the world of reusable space technology, no significant efforts have been made to test or build prototypes.

SpaceX’s BFR is completely reusable like the American wide-body commercial jet-Boeing 747.

It is the only company in the world to possess knowledge on how to land rockets safely from hypersonic speed. This follows from the fact that it is the only Engineering company in aeronautics that has all the data for landing rockets vertically. SpaceX started as an independent firm operating on one hundred million dollars from its founder’s pockets. Today it is one of the leading space exploration corporations in the world. “SpaceX was founded one year before the disaster of ‘Columbia’, in an era where reusable rockets seemed impossible. Its mission is to make human species interplanetary. “I would like to die on Mars.” says Elon Musk.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is an aerospace manufacturer and a sub-orbital spaceflight services provider. The organization’s name refers to Earth- the blue planet- as the point of origin.

The company’s motto is Gradatim Ferociter, Latin for "Step by Step, Ferociously". The New Glenn rockets are designed for transportation in the Earth’s orbit. They were named after the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. Bezos claimed to be the first one to reuse a rocket, three years after the feat had already been achieved by Musk. The New Shepard, named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, is a vertical-takeoff and vertical-landing rocket currently being developed by Blue Origin. It is a reusable suborbital rocket system designed to commercialise space. It aims to provide the experience of a lifetime. “Sitting atop a 60-foot-tall rocket in a capsule designed for six people, you’ll listen to the countdown and then feel the engine ignite and rumble under you as you climb through the atmosphere. Accelerating to more than Mach 3 and experiencing forces equal to three times Earth’s gravitational force, you will count yourself as one of the few who have reached these speeds and crossed into space. You will then return to Earth as the capsule's parachutes deploy for a gentle landing back in the West Texas desert.” reads Blue Origin’s website. “Experience the overview effect firsthand when you fly to space on board New Shepard. At the apex of your 11-minute flight, you will float above the thin limb of the atmosphere and gaze upon the Earth below.”

The Indian Space Research Organization is a government funded agency, unlike SpaceX-owned by the 40th richest man on the planet and Blue Origin-owned by the richest man on the planet. ISRO is known to be cost-effective and result oriented with a budget of only 1.7 Billion USD, per annum. In 2016, RLV’s prototype was launched. It is designed in a fashion similar to the space shuttle and lands horizontally. Its nose is covered by heat resistant material to protect it from its high velocity reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, unlike SpaceX’s BFR and Blue Origin’s New Glenn, ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstration Programme will not work on the moon or any of the planets. This is due to the fact that RLV-TD requires a runway for its winged, horizontal landing. This aligns with ISRO’s motto: ???? ???? ?? ???? ??? ???????? ???????????? which translates to “Space technology in the Service of humankind”.

After Blue Origin landed its first rocket, space-consumed Jeff Bezos addressed the entire nation. "When you throw a rocket away, an expendable rocket, you use it once and you throw away all that expensive space hardware," He made the following statement, hoping it would serve as a wakeup call on a global scale: "It’d be like getting in your [Boeing] 747 and flying across the country and then throwing it away, just using it one time. Imagine how expensive traveling would be."

SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk believes that reusing rockets would make space more accessible, practical and affordable. His goal is to reduce the cost of outer space transportation and make interplanetary travel possible. “At this point, I’m highly confident that it’s possible to achieve at least 100-fold reduction in the cost of space access,” he says.

Reusability is at the pinnacle of ISRO’s space craft development. Currently, they are working on a rocket with two reusable stages, the very first of its kind. Chief of ISRO, K Sivan believes that India's future in space technology is far greater than its low cost launches and missions.

The market for ‘space race’ had been dominated by NASA, Roscosmos and CNSA for many decades. With the demand for reusable space vehicles on the rise, would these organizations be eligible to compete with the aforementioned rockets and rocket prototypes? The global market for rocket launch is anticipated to touch the $7 billion mark in the year 2024, who will get there first?