SpaceX made history last month when it landed a Falcon 9 rocket after launching its payload into orbit.
Company CEO Elon Musk now reports that the rocket appears to be undamaged by its trip to space and back. While it looks like the rocket could easily be refurbished to fly again, that’s not the plan right now. SpaceX wants to keep this rocket on the ground as a memento — well, also for testing and study. A few new images of the recovered rocket have been posted as well.
Due to TechFly’s month absence we didn’t get chance to cover this amazing event.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with SpaceX news, the December 21st satellite launch was SpaceX’s first since the June 2015 ISS resupply mission ended badly. That Falcon 9 broke up several minutes after liftoff due to a faulty strut. The recent launch used an upgraded Falcon 9 with more thrust and a different strut design. Clearly, it worked.
This was the first time anyone managed to launch a rocket to orbital velocity and recover it. SpaceX tried to land the rocket on a drone ship a few times in late 2014 and early 2015, but those attempts ended in fiery crashes. All previous rocket designs have simply dropped expended stages in the ocean, which increases the cost of launches dramatically. The Falcon 9 first stage carries enough fuel to return to the launch pad and set down after sending the second stage on its way.
However, it wasn’t clear if that process would cause damage to the rocket that prevented it from being reused. According to Musk, there’s no apparent damage to the rocket. A new image (seen above) shows the Falcon 9 stage on its side in a Cape Canaveral hangar where it is being assessed. The white wedges toward the bottom are where the landing legs attached.
SpaceX does plan to fire the recovered rocket again, but it won’t be going into space. It intends to do a static fire on the launchpad as a test to prove that it’s capable of being reused, but the plan is to keep the unique rocket. The first rocket to be recovered following an orbital launch is important beyond its ability to save money on the next launch. Engineers will surely go over it in detail, and I’m sure Musk wants to display it somewhere as well.
So, when will SpaceX actually reuse one of its reusable rockets? Musk says we can expect to see this happen sometime in 2016 as the company has more than a dozen missions scheduled for the next year. Assuming those launches/landings go as well as the December mission, one of those rockets will go back into space, making history yet again.