Launch. Land. Repeat.

Photo Credit: SpaceX / The SpaceX Falcon 9 sits vertical at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Landing Zone 1 after a successful landing in December.

Trey Henderson/Senior Reporter

Imagine driving your car to class every day, just to throw it away once you’ve gotten there. That’s essentially how modern spaceflight works today, except your car is $50,000,000.

This is precisely why reusable vehicles have been a major area of interest since the start of the U.S. space program. As early as the 1950s, government research has been underway to develop an efficient multi-use launch vehicle. Likely the most well-known vehicle to come from that research was the Space Shuttle, a rocket-propelled spaceplane designed to launch like a rocket and land like a glider.

Theoretically, the Space Shuttle was to take only two weeks between launches for refurbishment and endure only minor launch-to-launch inspection costs. In actuality, the shortest ever turn around of the Space Shuttle was 54 days and the platform touted an average yearly labor cost of one billion dollars between 25,000 workers.

With the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the United States was in a state of limbo as far as its ability to deliver humans to space. President Obama spoke at Kennedy Space Center in April 2010 to announce a new direction for NASA, and his speech placed a large emphasis on private industry for the future of space flight.

The void left by the Space Shuttle Program as well as President Obama’s emphasis on private corporations lead to the growth of private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada, and many others.

Photo Credit: Blue Origin / The New Shepard Launch Vehicle launches from Blue Origin's West Texas test facility in November on its first flight to space.

Photo Credit: Blue Origin / The New Shepard Launch Vehicle launches from Blue Origin’s West Texas test facility in November on its first flight to space.

The last few months have provided a glimpse into the future of competitive private aerospace with countless industry-shattering accomplishments. Stealing the media in recent weeks have been front runners SpaceX and Blue Origin, both with major displays of advancement in reusable launch vehicle capabilities.

Effective and efficient reusability of space launch vehicles is a critical aspect to the survival of a company in the cut-throat capitalistic climate of the private sector.
As bottom lines start becoming the driving factor in the U.S. space program, companies such as ULA, SpaceX, and Blue Origin will have to work harder than ever to ensure that their services remain in the realm of affordability for commercial customers.

This downward trend can already be seen as today’s average United Launch Alliance flight costs half that of the Space Shuttle at only $225 million, and a Falcon 9 flight is just a fraction of a Shuttle launch at $60 million.

The implications of the plummeting costs of space access are clear for the future of science, exploration, and space tourism. As corporations dedicate more effort to efficiency and competition, routine and affordable spaceflight may one day become a reality.