As part of its last supply mission to the International Space Station, SpaceX tested the ability of its Falcon 9 rocket to make a landing. Earlier today SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the telemetry from the rocket indicates that it did make a soft landing in the Atlantic ocean. Unfortunately, SpaceX was only able to recover parts of the rocket boosters, most likely due to rough seas at the landing point.
The company is sufficiently pleased by the results of this test to move forward with additional testing. The next step would be a similar test over land, which could happen later this year.
The announcement is a bit of a game changer, as this is the first SpaceX test of a reusable rocket that had been to orbit and back. Should the rockets be able to make soft landings on land, then the price of getting things into orbit would drop. But it’s not (nor is it ever) just a matter of successful technology. The market needs to be there, and that likely motivated Musk’s additional announcement.
SpaceX is suing the Air Force over its refusal to allow private companies to bid on rocket contracts involving national security. Presently those rockets are handled by a company relying on Russian-made rockets, so Musk is arguing, among other things, that allowing U.S. companies to bid on the contract could actually be better for national security reasons than depending on a country that isn’t the most friendly with us at the moment.