The broad concept is the same as it was for the Space Shuttle: If you want to make space travel cost-effective, the vehicle needs to be reusable. The Shuttle was reusable but it was dangerous to the crews who manned it and not the cost-saver in practice that it was in theory. Here’s another go at the idea by the private space flight industry, a two-stage rocket called Falcon 9 built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX outfit and capable of delivering astronauts to space or payloads without a manned crew. (Yesterday’s payload consisted of 11 commercial satellites.) Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin, which focuses on bringing tourists to space, had already managed to land a rocket safely after launch, but that trip was to the edge of orbital space. SpaceX wanted to reach orbit, deliver the satellites, then bring the Falcon’s first stage back and set it down upright on a landing pad like a helicopter softly descending to earth. Watch the clips. How’d they do?
It looks stranger than fiction to me, by which I mean it looks like something you wouldn’t even conceive as possible outside of a sci-fi movie, yet here we are. Gotta say, in the long list of ways, salutary and otherwise, in which spectacularly rich people have attempted to one-up each other historically, a race between Musk, Bezos and whoever else to normalize space travel must rank pretty high.