Originally posted by sonhouse
Why can't they just use a high end parachute?
Because dropping a spacecraft into the sea causes damage and corrosion that takes
a long time to repair even after the expensive recovery operation. A lesson learned from
the Space Shuttles SR Boosters. [Also, even without fuel the first stage is a ~40m tall
multi-tonne beast that is very hard to successfully parachute down, and the parachute and
reinforcing required doesn't weigh a whole lot less than the fuel. And unlike the fuel it
can't be used in a pinch to help recover from a failure to try to complete the primary mission.]
Landing on land, or the drone ship, means far less work and expense to do a rapid turnaround.
I would also note that SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is slated to be able to lift more payload to
orbit than any other vehicle aside from the Saturn V [~50 metric tonnes]... And while NASA's proposed
Space Launch System [SLS] is slated to be able to beat both [~70 metric tonnes], it will do so at
vastly greater cost and at most 2 launches per year. Assuming it doesn't get cancelled and doesn't slip
even farther behind schedule.
And looking farther ahead... SpaceX is looking to build for it's next craft, a launch system
capable of lifting 100+ people and putting them [and associated life support and/or cargo]
not just into LEO but into Mars transfer orbit. [and use the same reusability system as the falcon]
And at their current rate of progress, it's entirely possible that SpaceX will have the prototype
built before NASA gets the SLS human rated.