Reusable Rockets Signal New Era for Embry-Riddle Students

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket landing
Photos Courtesy of SpaceX

The landing of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in December marks a historic milestone for the commercial space industry and the future of Embry-Riddle students.

Rocket Launch: Feb. 3 | United launch Alliance Atlas V GPS IIF-12

When: February 3, 2016 at 8:47 a.m. EST

Where: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 41

On Dec. 21, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster successfully landed back into earth’s atmosphere after delivering 11 satellites into orbit. The flight was SpaceX’s third attempt at landing a reusable rocket, which could eventually reduce the cost of space flight by a factor of 100 and is the first time a mission of this nature has succeeded.

“This is a fundamental step change in technology compared to any other rocket that has ever flown,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a teleconference after the launch at Cape Canaveral Air Station.

SpaceX’s success comes just one month after Blue Origin, the company founded by CEO Jeff Bezos, landed its New Shepard booster during a suborbital test.

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The successful rocket landings are a promising sign for the future of commercial space flight and could help drop the cost of space travel for private companies as well as NASA. It also means new opportunities for students at Embry-Riddle.

“The road to reusable rockets has seen its share of challenges, setbacks, and naysayers, but Elon Musk’s accomplishment together with the previous similar landing by Blue Origin can be seen as technical proofs of concept within the vision of reusability,” said Dr. Antonio Cortes, department chair of Applied Aviation Sciences at Embry-Riddle.

Since 2014, SpaceX and Boeing have received contracts to complete building, testing and flying up to six flights of human-related space capsules to the International Space Station in 2017. To prepare students for this growing industry, Embry-Riddle introduced its Bachelor of Science in Commercial Space Operations in 2012. Since then, program enrollment has quadrupled.

Dr. Lance Erickson, professor of Applied Aviation Sciences at Embry-Riddle, said that when the commercial space degree program started in 2012, 400 companies were globally recognized in the commercial space industry. That number has grown to more than 1,000. In addition to the private industry, the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation will create more opportunities to regulate and facilitate commercial space launches.

“The CSO program is the first in the world of its kind,” Erickson said.

Erickson added that the growing commercial space industry will impact students across disciplinary fields such as engineering and human factors. The Commercial Space Operations program takes an interdisciplinary approach with a focus on policy operations, safety, training, human factors and planning elements of commercial and private space operations.

In December, the first three Commercial Space Operations students graduated from the program and are pursuing careers in the industry. Students in the program also are conducting a research project to record human physiological responses during suborbital missions, analog flights in high-performance aircraft and ground simulators. The data will be provided to industry leaders once completed. In May, 10 students are expected to graduate from the CSO program and are working with faculty to secure job opportunities with the FAA.

“It’s just the right time to enter this industry,” Erickson said. “As students graduate, there is going to be a need for operational personnel in addition to engineering personnel.”

SpaceX graphic showing a Falcon 9 Rocket launch and landing

ORBCOMM-2 Mission

On Dec. 21, 2015, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivered 11 satellites to low-Earth orbit as part of the ORBCOMM-2 Mission. The launch was from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Eleven satellites were deployed approximately 20 minutes after liftoff, completing a 17-satellite, low Earth orbit constellation for ORBCOMM.  Click on the photo to the left for a detailed graphic of the Falcon 9's launch and landing.