SpaceX Hit Huge Reusable Rocket Milestone with Falcon 9 Test Flight (Video)

April 15, 2016 – 07:50 am

Reusability Test of SpaceX's Next-Gen Falcon 9 RocketThe private spaceflight firm SpaceX took some steps toward developing a fully reusable rocket during the maiden flight of its new and improved Falcon 9 launch vehicle late last month, company officials say.

"For the first restart burn, we lit three engines to do a supersonic retro propulsion, which we believe may be the first attempt by any rocket stage, " SpaceX officials wrote in an update Monday (Oct. 14). "The first restart burn was completed well and enabled the stage to survive re-entering the atmosphere in a controlled fashion."[SpaceX's Next-Gen Falcon 9 Rocket Soars on 1st Flight (Photos)]

Engineers ignited a single engine during the second re-light. This operation also went well, officials said, though the first stage began rolling too much to make a soft splashdown in the Pacific.

The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket comes down to Earth after its maiden launch on Sept. 29, 2013. Engineers managed to re-light the first stage engines twice as part of a reusability test.
Credit: SpaceX

"This particular stage was not equipped with landing gear which could have helped stabilize the stage like fins would on an aircraft, " SpaceX officials wrote. "The stage ended up spinning to a degree that was greater than we could control with the gas thrusters on board, and ultimately we hit the water relatively hard."

The rocket, known as the Falcon 9 v1.1, carried Canada's CASSIOPE space-weather satellite and three smaller spacecraft to orbit during the Sept. 29 flight. The reusability test was always viewed as a secondary objective, and one that stood little chance of succeeding completely, officials said.

"It is important to note that this is not a priority for this flight, and SpaceX does not expect success with this first test, " SpaceX spokeswoman Hannah Post told before the launch.

Combining information from the Falcon 9 v1.1's maiden flight and the ongoing Grasshopper tests should help bring a rapidly reusable rocket closer to reality, SpaceX officials said.

"SpaceX recovered portions of the [Falcon 9 v1.1's first] stage and now, along with the Grasshopper tests, we believe we have all the pieces to achieve a full recovery of the boost stage, " they wrote in the Oct. 14 update.

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