Which is better: Recovering an entire rocket stage for eventual reuse, or recovering only the rocket’s propulsion and avionics systems, which account for 70-80% of the stage’s costs? The answer, in essence, marks the distinction between what Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is attempting to do today and what Airbus Defense and Space says it wants to do, starting no sooner than 2025. The SpaceX model—which is already being tested with the Falcon 9 launcher and an ...

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