In Brief
When it comes to reusable rocket technology, SpaceX has led the way, and the U.S. Air Force wants to follow suit. The Air Force Space Command, according to its chief, is committed to using pre-flown rockets for future missions.

Changing the Air Force Game

For General John W. Raymond of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, the future of space rocket technology lies in reusability and autonomy, and to this goal, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already paving the way. Speaking to Bloomberg on Monday, Raymond said that U.S. Air Force is ready to follow suit, and they are “completely committed” to launch future missions using pre-flown rockets similar to SpaceX’s.

The general explained that it would be “absolutely foolish” not to do so, as reusable rockets would drive down the cost of launch missions, something SpaceX has already seen to be effective. “What Elon has done is significantly reduce launch costs,” Raymond said. “That’s driving reduced launch costs across the world.” An autonomous system aboard these reusable rockets further reduces costs, requiring lesser manpower and saving turn-around time between launches.

spacex reusable rockets elon musk
The Falcon 9’s first re-flight. Image credit: SpaceX

“The folks out at Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles that work for me would be in those dialogues,” the general added, referring to supposedly-ongoing talks to certify recycled boosters for military use. “I don’t know how far down the road we’ve gotten, but I am completely committed to launching on a reused rocket, a previously flown rocket, and making sure that we have the processes in place to be able to make sure that we can do that safely.”

Reliable Plans for Reusable Rockets

Since SpaceX first launched a reused Falcon 9 back in March, the company has enjoyed a series of successful commercial orbital missions. Obviously, the lower cost of sending satellites to space aboard pre-flown rockets is attractive for SpaceX’s growing list of commercial partners, which includes the U.S. Air Force. Indeed, SpaceX launched the highly-secretive X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle last month.

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Musk has since improved his plans for reusable rockets, previewing a revamped design for the BFR during his keynote at the 2017 International Aeronautical Congress (IAC) in Australia. Under the new scheme, the BFR would be the number one rocket for all of SpaceX’s needs, including flying satellites, re-supplying the International Space Station, and sending people to Mars — as well as plans for trans-global rocket travel. Musk recently clarified details about his plans in a Reddit AMA.

“I want everybody to go this way and I think the commercial industry that’s developing is going that way because they’re going to have to, to complete. It will completely transform the way we do launch operations,” Raymond said. For the general, the market is certainly going this way, and it won’t be smart for the U.S. Air Force not to follow “What we have to do is make sure we do it smartly.”