This past Monday SpaceX, no doubt pushed by the recent success of Blue Origin, successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket that had just helped lift its second stage (and 11 satellites) into orbit. After two attempts at returning a Falcon 9 first stage to an upright position on a barge, SpaceX returned this stage to its landing zone at Cape Canaveral. It marks the first success of any organization in landing upright a rocket stage that had helped place a payload in orbit.
As the title notes, SpaceX has company in the landable rocket stage business. Blue Origin joined the company earlier this year when it landed one of its suborbital New Shepard rocket stages. Both companies have work arrangements with NASA, and barring some notable from legacy contractors Boeing and Lockheed, continued success with these reusable rockets provide a possible transformation in access to orbit.
Should the Falcon 9 (and rockets like it) be reusable as much as SpaceX anticipates (around 40 times prior to some part replacements), both SpaceX and Blue Origin will be providing significant cost savings over conventional rockets in lifting cargo and people to orbit.
Once SpaceX (or Blue Origin) have made the technical demonstrations necessary to prove their dramatic cost savings, there might be a fight comparable to the one settled early in 2015 over Air Force launch contracts. But any such fight might be shorter, given that SpaceX’s reusable orbital tests have been conducted as secondary goals of many of its orbital missions – for private parties or for NASA.
Whatever happens, the video certainly looks great.