| CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 31
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 31 Elon Musk’s
SpaceX on Thursday salvaged half of the $6 million nosecone of
its rocket, in what the space entrepreneur deemed an important
feat in the drive to recover more of its launch hardware and cut
the cost of space flights.
Shortly after the main section of SpaceX’s first recycled
Falcon 9 booster landed itself on a platform in the ocean, half
of the rocket’s nosecone, which protected a communications
satellite during launch, splashed down via parachute nearby.
"That was the cherry on the cake,” Musk, who serves as chief
executive and lead designer of Space Exploration Technologies,
told reporters after launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in
Measuring 43 feet (13 meters) long and 17 feet (5 meters) in
diameter, the nosecone is big enough to hold a school bus. It
separates into two pieces, exposing the satellite, about 4
minutes after liftoff.
As a test, SpaceX outfitted the fairing with thrusters and a
"It’s its own little spacecraft,” Musk said. “The thrusters
maintain its orientation as it re-enters and then ... the
parachute steers it to a particular location.”
SpaceX has focused most of its efforts and more than $1
billion into developing technologies to recover the Falcon 9's
main section, which accounts for about 75 percent of the $62
million rocket. Musk’s goal is to cut the cost of spaceflight
so that humanity can migrate beyond Earth.
"I hope people will start to think about it as a real goal
to establish a civilization on Mars,” he said.
LANDING ON 'BOUNCY CASTLE'
After some debate about whether the nosecone could be
recovered, Musk said he told his engineering team, “Imagine you
had $6 million in cash on a pallet flying through the air that’s
just going to smash into the ocean. Would you try to recover
that? Yes, you would.”
Musk envisions deploying a kind of “bouncy castle” for the
fairing to land on so it can be recovered intact and reused.
The company plans up to six more flights of recycled
boosters this year, including two that will strapped alongside a
third, new first-stage for the debut test flight of a heavy-lift
Originally slated to fly in 2013, Falcon Heavy is now
expected to fly late this summer.
"At first it sounded easy. We’ll just take two first stages
and use them as strap-on boosters,” Musk said. “It was actually
shockingly difficult to go from single core to a triple-core
Privately owned SpaceX also is developing a commercial space
taxi to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, a
venture to send two space tourists on a trip around the moon and
a Mars lander that is slated to launch in 2020.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Joe White and Mary