While most of the attention thrown on SpaceX’s reusable rockets is directed at the moon and planets, an Earthier role could turn out to be pivotal in further developing the technology. The Air Force Rocket Cargo Initiative, a new partnership between the U.S. Air Force and the Space Force, will use what SpaceX and other private companies are learning about space travel to explore delivering military cargo throughout the world. That could expand to carrying personnel once the safety and reliability of the technology is advanced and proven.
Projections are that a current rocket could transport 100 tons (enough to fill a C-17 transport) anywhere on Earth within an hour. And as the reusable rockets advance, commercial operators are bringing down the cost. Greg Spanjers, program manager for the joint project, said, “It looks like the technology might have caught up with a good idea.”
The U.S. Defense Department budget request has allocated $48 million for the initiative, funding that targets adapting the cargo for travel in space and exploring how it can be delivered to remote, inhospitable destinations. If the initiative proves practical, the time and experience gained in establishing regular operations could prove invaluable for further developing the reusable rocket technology.
A potentially challenging stumbling block for using space rockets to descend on random landing sites to deliver cargo, the Air Force acknowledges, is preventing local air defense forces from mistaking them for hostile ballistic missiles that could be carrying nuclear warheads. But according to Dr. Spanjers, “We know how to handle that deconfliction.”