On December 21, 2015, Space X achieved a milestone in spaceflight. The pioneering company launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Falcon 9 carried a payload of 11 ORBCOMM satellites to orbit. While the satellites were on their journey to low earth orbit, the Falcon 9 first stage landed back landed back at the Cape Canaveral launch complex. Check out the landing at 42:00 minutes.
The technology required to lift off, travel to (near) space, and then return safely to Earth is a milestone in spaceflight. It will allow for significant cost savings now, and eventually, perhaps, a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) spacecraft.
The quest to travel to space and back in a reusable spacecraft is not new. But the technology required for reusable SSTO spacecraft is not trivial. NASA’s Space Shuttle got part of the way there. A billion dollar effort between Lockheed Martin and NASA to build the next generation SSTO X-33 prototype and VentureStar orbital space plane ended in 2001 due to insurmountable engineering challenges and a withdrawal of government support. Even the military had its run at developing an SSTO. The DC-X, short for Delta Clipper or Delta Clipper Experimental was an unmanned prototype of a reusable SSTO built to support the Defense Department’s Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.
So hats-off and congrats to Space X. They have taken a bold step forward in advancing US space capabilities, space commerce, and perhaps eventually human spaceflight.