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Elon Musk says key to opening up space travel is 'near complete reusability' of spacecraft

  • Elon Musk wants to make rockets and spacecraft as reusable as possible
  • SpaceX was first to reuse an orbital class rocket
  • Reusing will drive down costs and reduce turnaround time

The key to opening up low-Earth orbit, and space travel in general, is building rockets and spacecraft that are almost entirely reusable, said Elon Musk.

Spacecraft have to become as much like any terrestrial or sea-faring vehicle as possible — meaning they can be reused again and again —Musk said, speaking at the International Space Station Research and Design conference in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

SpaceX made history in March when it was the first to launch an orbital class rocket into space twice. The company has excelled in driving down the cost of launches, and SpaceX has said reusing them can further push down costs, and dramatically reduce turnaround time, allowing for more launches.

"It's super hard with space, because we live on a planet with pretty high gravity," Musk said. This is due to the immense stress placed on spacecraft as it travels in and out of Earth's atmosphere.

Still though, it is worth it.

"The analogy I use with my team is 'guys imagine we had 6 million dollars on a pallet of cash,' " Musk said. "Six million dollars is falling through the sky. Would we try to catch it?'"

Musk said he thinks the next reused rocket can be launched for about half the cost of launching a new one.

He also said that the Falcon 9 booster might be able to be reflown in 24 hours, by possibly as soon as the end of next year.

"The key to that is you do inspections, and no hardware is changed, not even the paint," he said.