Well, this is cool: A new video from SpaceX shows the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) rocket during a 1,000 meter test flight at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas. This was the first flight test of a set of steerable fins that provide control of the rocket during the fly-back portion of the return flight. The fins deploy approximately 1:15 into the test flight and return to their original locked position just prior to landing.
This seems like a truly smooth flight!
These types of fins are not new, but are new for human space flight. They’ve been used on missiles and bombs to aid in precision targeting, and likewise will help the F9R to land precisely on target.
SpaceX confirmed that during the early tests flights of F9R, the landing legs will be fixed in the down position, however soon they will transition to a liftoff with the legs stowed against the side of the rocket with the legs extending just before landing. The company also said that future test flights of F9R will be at SpaceX’s New Mexico facility which will allow them to test in higher altitude flights, give them the chance to prove unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are “more flight-like.”