SpaceX’s Next-Generation Reusable Rocket Roars In Tie-Down Test

by Elizabeth Howell on April 1, 2014

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As SpaceX pursues its quest of rocket reusability, it recently subjected the first stage of its next generation Falcon 9 rocket (called the Falcon 9-reusable or F9R) to a tie-down test ahead of some more heavy-duty work in the coming months and years. Early indications are that the test was a success, the firm said.

Details of the rocket are still scance on the SpaceX’s website, but the California-based company said that the rocket would generate about a million pounds of thrust at sea level, and 1.5 million pounds in space. It’s also a sort of follow-on from the leaping reusable Grasshopper rocket that retired last year.

Rockets are usually the “throwaway” items in a flight, but SpaceX is betting that by creating a reusable one that it will save on launch costs in the long run. (The rocket has been tested before, such as this long-duration one last June.)

“F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like,” SpaceX stated in the YouTube video description.

SpaceX’s next launch to the space station was supposed to be in March, but it was scrubbed due to a radar outage that is affecting several launches. You can read more about the Falcon 9 rocket’s development (including the addition of landing legs) in this recent Universe Today article by Ken Kremer.

The first stage of SpaceX's F9R rocket was tested in a "static fire" in March 2014. Credit: SpaceX/YouTube (screenshot)

The first stage of SpaceX’s F9R rocket was tested in a “static fire” in March 2014. Credit: SpaceX/YouTube (screenshot)

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Jim E April 1, 2014 at 5:18 PM

It’s hard to tell if all 9 engines were on, or just the center one. I think the plan is to just use the center engine during the decent, when the first stage is much lighter than on the way up. The tricky part is to get it lit and under control when it’s been free-falling for a while.

gopher65 April 2, 2014 at 1:29 PM

As I understand it, three engines will fire to slow the first stage down after second stage separation (which will occur at somewhere between mach 6 and mach 10). As the stage approaches the landing site (presumably at the stage’s terminal velocity?), one engine will fire to slow it for landing.

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