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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

SpaceX Unveils Autonomous Drone Ship For Landing Reusable Rockets

•, By Loren Grush

In the ongoing effort to lower the cost of commercial spaceflight, private companies hope to conquer a facet of rocket design NASA hasn't fully explored yet: reusable rockets. Up until now, all space rockets have used disposable launch systems, meaning they're designed to launch only once, and afterward, their parts are never recovered. The Space Shuttle was mostly reusable, but it still required an expendable -- and pricey -- external tank for lift-off. If a truly reusable launch system can be achieved, such a rocket could dramatically lower the cost of getting to space, since manufacturers wouldn't need to replace their rockets after each liftoff.

Private spaceflight company SpaceX is hoping to be the first to turn this vision into a reality, by updating their Falcon 9 rocket to land safely on Earth after delivering cargo (and one day, maybe, people) to the International Space Station. That means the company had to come up with a solution no one has really needed before: a place for their rocket to land.

Well, it looks like Elon Musk is one step ahead as usual. On Twitter, the SpaceX CEO revealed an "autonomous spaceport drone ship" that will serve as a landing pad for the company's reusable rockets. The ship is 300 feet by 100 feet, with wings that can extend its landing surface width to 170 feet.

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