Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) which is led by internet entrepreneur, Elon Musk, has objected to a patent filed by launch vehicle start-up, Blue Origin (led by Amazon guru Jeff Bezos) which effectively attempts to legally restrict other firms from using downrange landings for reusable launch vehicle stages. The full details of the objection and on Slashdot and on Spaceref.
Comment by David Todd: This move was not unexpected. No doubt aware of the fuel penalty involved in having to redirect its reusable first stages back to its Florida or Texas-based launch sites, and aware of the dangers to local populations in doing this, SpaceX found that it had to object to the patent to this alternative and better downrange landing technique which, in reality, is just basic natural physics and common sense.
When it comes to firms trying to patent spaceflight techniques rather than technology, unfortunately, there is a precedent. Hughes (now Boeing) patented a lunar flyby recovery technique for stranded satellites trying to get into Geosynchronous Earth Orbit in the event of a faulty transfer orbit injection. Hughes Global Services had used the technique to recover the stranded Asiasat 3 spacecraft to an inclined geosynchronous Earth orbit after a partial launch failure.
The firm’s patent stands and has the right to licence this technique or bar other firms from using it. In effect Boeing did just that when it set the technique’s licencing price so high that it was uneconomic for SES to use it to recover a stranded satellite.
Scientists subsequently decried this action noting that in effect, Hughes/Boeing had been able to patent basic Newtonian mechanics – in other words Boeing now had rights over the Laws of Physics which was against the common good.