On a Friday afternoon from Florida, in May, 2018, the SpaceX rocket launch and landing didn’t appear all that different from any other.
After eight years of flying the Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX has engineered and designed the lessons learned from 51 flights into a new, perhaps final (I doubt it), version of the booster. Elon Musk talked a good game about rapid and reusable launch, and the Block 5 version of the rocket seems to actually deliver on his promises.
For a moment, Musk stopped to reflect on how hard he had pushed his engineering team. “For those that know rockets, this is a ridiculously hard thing,” he said. “It has taken us since, man, since 2002. Sixteen years of extreme effort and many, many iterations, and thousands of small but important development changes to get to where we think this is even possible.”
After a quick pause, he added, “Crazy hard.”
Elon Musk and his SpaceX continues to work with NASA to qualify its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for crew missions, as NASA’s human rating requirements are quite extensive. NASA says it needs to see seven flights of the Block 5 version of the rocket before it is confident in the new configuration.
Every exponential enterprise has much to learn from this example.