Apr 16, 2015 09:19 PM EDT
While SpaceX continues to try to land a rocket for reuse later, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have unveiled what they believe will be a better and cheaper booster recycling solution.
The companies' joint venture, known as the United Launch Alliance, revealed a new "Vulcan" rocket whose booster engines can be recaptured and preserved in mid-air after being intercepted by helicopters.
The space capsule on board the Vulcan will also come equipped with a super efficient engine that can be used in space for weeks instead of hours and could one day be used for missions that must make trips to multiple locations and even future moon missions. The engine will be powered by liquid natural gas, which is cheaper than the standard fuel used to currently power missions.
The new engine is under development by Blue Origin, an aerospace company owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezon. It will be "the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market," according to Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance.
"[Vulcan is] going to take the best parts of Delta and Atlas and combine them with new and advanced technology to provide a rocket that is not just as reliable and certain as Atlas has been, but also much more powerful, with higher performance, greater flexibility and [is] significantly more affordable," said Bruno in a press conference.
The announcement made by both Boeing and Lockheed Martin is aimed at preserving the lucrative contracts they currently hold with both the Pentagon and NASA. Recently, Congress has criticized the venture's use of Russian made RD-180 engines, and as SpaceX continues to demonstrate how it plans to make space missions much more cost effective, could put these contracts in jeopardy.
"Whether it is scientific missions, medical advancements, national security or new economic opportunities for businesses, ULA's new Vulcan rocket is a game-changer in terms of creating endless possibilities in space," said Bruno. "It will open up new opportunities for the nation's use of space."
Elon Musk's SpaceX isn't out of the game yet and has already successfully reduced the cost of many missions into orbit. On Monday, it aborted its resupply mission and attempt to land its rocket but proceeded on Tuesday. While the resupply mission was a success, the rocket again failed to land on the floating platform. Still, Musk believes that the company has an 80 percent chance of succeeding by the end of the year.
The quest for cheaper and more efficient space travel is ramping up and competition is becoming much tougher as the likes of SpaceX and others work to keep the contracts with NASA while also deepening their partnerships with the space agency.
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