How the DC-X Started it All


Today, we take a lot of elements of space travel for granted.  As innovation continues to outdo itself, we forget that there was once a time when even the most standard of today’s space travel technology did not exist.  A prime example is the design behind the SpaceX and Blue Origin, two highly cost-efficient and brilliantly advanced space travel rocket designs.  What makes these two rockets so exceptional is that due to their designs, they cut costs while being sustainable. 

So, what innovations led to the development of these two rockets?  Well, it all started with the DC-X.  As the first rocket to boast a vertical landing, it started it all.

What is the DC-X?

Known as the Delta Clipper Experimental, the DC-X was the first rocket design that was capable of landing vertically despite a vertical takeoff.  It utilized several rockets on its base, yet it could land just as it took off, meaning it would not have to crash into the ocean due to its inability to land standing up.  Needless to say, this type of design would allow NASA to save money by not having to lose rockets after their first missions.  So, the DC-X was, in essence, the first truly reusable rocket.

So, what inspired its development?  Well, in the 1980s, NASA launched the now-legendary Space Shuttle Program in an effort to develop a large number of rockets that could carry out various plans that space scientists had hoped to achieve, including the Hubble Space Telescope.  This means that during that time, many different rocket designs were funded, allowing NASA to fully experiment with a wide range of design components that had never been used before.

One casualty of this era of innovation was the Challenger that exploded moments after takeoff in 1986 due to a faulty gasket.  This tragedy claimed the lives of all aboard, but it also gave NASA incentive to be more careful when designing rockets from that point on.  Therefore, you can say that the DC-X was a byproduct of that disastrous mission as engineers felt a stronger need than ever before to create something truly safe, reliable and efficient.

Construction began on the DC-X in 1991, and by 1993, it was being tested.  The main component that was tested repeatedly was its reusability, which was successful.  In 1996, the DX-CA took its place as an upgraded version of its predecessor.  However, during its final test, a malfunction caused the rocket to topple over upon landing.  While this may have been perceived as disastrous at the time, it actually proved that it was, in fact, capable of landing exactly where it had taken off from.  So, in other words, the technology was a massive success.

How Has the DC-X Inspired Today’s Space Exploration?

In today’s age, there’s an emphasis on cost-efficient space travel like never before.  So, you can understand why the DC-X prototype appeals to space travel organizations.  Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are looking to this classic design in order to find cost-efficient ways of launching their own rockets, the SpaceX and the Blue Origin, respectively.  This means that a new era of space exploration can begin thanks to this highly efficient design that continues to influence us to this day.

By being so cost-efficient, great advancements in space exploration can be made.  Cost is one of the most important factors when it comes to completing missions and journeys, and so the development of reusable rockets can do a lot of good for the future of the industry.  Now, Elon Musk is preparing to launch the Starship, a rocket that has many design elements in common with the now-iconic DC-X.  We can’t wait to see how the new era of space travel goes thanks to these reusable designs, combined with the latest technology.

DC-X Has Its Place in NASA’s History

If it weren’t for the DC-X, the use of rockets would be far more expensive than it is today.  It represents the amazingly rapid evolution of space travel in terms of design and technology.  And, thanks to the DC-X, we’re able to accomplish more in space than ever before thanks to a number of designs that are inspired by this groundbreaking rocket.

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