SpaceX is expected to take another leap towards the full reusability of their Falcon 9 launch vehicle next month, when the rocket’s first stage will be commanded back to Earth for a soft touchdown on water. The CRS-3/SpX-3 Falcon 9 v1.1 will also debut landing legs on its aft for the first time, according to SpaceX Co-Founder Tom Mueller.
Launching from SpaceX’s launch site at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex -40 (SLC-40), the Falcon 9 v1.1 will be conducting its fourth launch since being upgraded, its third from SLC-40.
However, along with its first flight with the Dragon spacecraft as its passenger, this next Falcon 9 v1.1 will also be sporting landing legs, allowing for the next milestone in testing towards the rocket becoming fully reusable.
The debut of the Falcon 9 v1.1 – carrying the CASSIOPE satellite – involved the first “boost back” test of the first stage, while sources note there was also a boost back test during the SES-8 mission, or at least the restart of the first stage post staging.
According to a speech by Tom Mueller, Co-Founder and VP Propulsion for SpaceX – at the “Exploring the Next Frontier: The Commercialization of Space is Lifting Off” event in Santa Barbara, California, on Wednesday night – the F9 first stage involved in the CASSIOPE launch crashed into the water during the return test.
The problem related to the stage spinning during its return, causing the fuel to centrifuge.
According to Mr. Mueller, the baffles in the tanks were not designed for those stresses, causing debris to get into the engines, resulting in them shutting down prematurely.
It has been long-rumored that the Falcon 9 involved with the CRS-3 mission may involve legs being added to its aft. SpaceX officials have so far been unable to answer questions, sent by NASASpaceFlight.com last month, specific to their reusability efforts.
Mr. Mueller noted the aim is to conduct a soft landing – or soft touchdown – on water, after the first stage boosts back from its role in aiding Dragon’s ascent uphill.
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