I am writing a piece about re-usable rockets and I'm wondering, apart from SpaceX, have there been any re-usable rockets in the past, success or 'failure', as in didn't perform as expected. Obviously there is the Space shuttle, but any others?

Even examples of partial re-use would be great.

  • $\begingroup$ Besides the orbiter, did you know that the SRBs were also reusable? I think that might be more relevant when compared to modern reusable rockets. Also the different techniques (parachute vs. powered landing) is interesting. $\endgroup$
    – busdriver
    May 15, 2019 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ Related: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    May 15, 2019 at 20:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @busdriver "resusable" is a stretch for the SRBs. They took them apart down to every bolt and screw, then built them up again out of different segments. space.stackexchange.com/a/16865/6944 So they flew again, but never as the same unit. A stack of reusable parts, yes. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2019 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Given you mention the shuttle, would the Gemini space capsule meet your requirements? Gemini 2 was the first true space craft ever to be reused (as opposed to the suborbital X-15) - it flew as part of the Gemini program on 19th jan 1965, and then again as part of the Manned Orbital Laboratory test flight on 3rd November 1966. $\endgroup$
    – Moo
    May 16, 2019 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


X37B Infographic

The X-37 has now flown several times (4 or 5) between two vehicles.

A lifting body design that launches on top of an Atlas V or Falcon 9 booster. The Falcon 9 being reusable in the first stage increases the percentage reused.

Including Magic Octopus's picture from the comments of a landed X-37B to get relative size.

Landed X37B


It's relatively easy to manage reusability in a rocket if you don't get to orbital speeds.

The X-15 was a rocket powered spaceplane. It was launched from a B-52 jet carrier (at about 13.7km altitude) and flew to the edge of space (several flights to 80km altitude, below the FAI definition of "space", but above the USAF's definition, and two flights above FAI's 100km), but wasn't fast enough to get into orbit. Three were built and flew a total of 199 times between 1959 and 1968. This was a very successful research program, which provided a lot of data for development of the space shuttle as well as demonstrating the value of combining human pilots with automated systems.

Various other rocket-powered aircraft have flown multiple times atmospherically, for example, the Me-163 and Bell X-1, but I imagine you're primarily looking for spacecraft with this question.


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