Elon Musk confirms that on future Falcon 9 launches they will do tests of a powered return of the first stage.

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The competition heats up: Elon Musk confirms that on future Falcon 9 launches they will do tests of a powered return of the first stage.

For the upcoming flight, after stage separation the first stage booster will do a burn to slow it down and then a second burn just before it reaches the water. In subsequent flights they will continue these over-water tests. He repeatedly emphasized that he expects several failures before they learn how to do it right. If all goes well with the over-water tests, they will fly back to launch site and land propulsively. He expects this could happen by mid-2014.

These tests are an extension of the Grasshopper tests, only this time they will take place during an actual launch.



  • That’s a very aggressive schedule. Recall that Virgin Galactic was supposed to start revenue operations last year, and they’ve yet to mate the powerplant with the airframe, much less test and certify the vehicle. If Space X achieves recoverability and re-use of the first stage in the next 18 months, it will still be an impressive feat. I’d think they’re probably 3 – 5 years from a recoverable (1st & 2nd stage) man-rated launcher. Chapeau to Mr. Musk and his team for making the effort.

  • If they are able to recover the first stage of a Falcon 9, this will put them in a position to offer the lowest cost launcher by an even greater margin. But even if they aren’t able to quite make it, they could still use them on a Falcon Heavy launch where, with cross-feeding, the lateral core stages separate earlier than on a Falcon 9. This would make it likely that those lateral boosters would be able to be recovered since they are traveling slower at separation. If they were to achieve that, then they would be able to recover two out of four portions of their rocket and nearly 2/3rds of their engines. This would drive down their already low cost by something like 50%. At the same time, two Falcon Heavy payloads docked in LEO mass nearly the same thing as the Saturn V.

    SpaceX is doing the most to really break open space. I wish them success.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I didn’t get to see the live feed of the press conference where Elon made his remarks about first stage recovery tests and can’t seem to find it archived anywhere either (any assistance in this regard from other readers would be greatly appreciated). Failing that, perhaps someone who saw the thing can tell me what the context of “next” was when Elon said SpaceX would be attempting a recovery-type flight profile for the F9 v1.1 first stage on the “next” flight. In my current condition of ignorance, I see three meanings of “next” as plausible. One is the next Commercial Resupply flight to ISS, but this is currently scheduled for Nov. 28. That seems like a long time to wait and it would actually be the fifth scheduled launch of the new v1.1 vehicle. Two, if the planned first stage recovery experiments are going to be conducted only on launches from Cape Canaveral, he might have meant the next F9 mission launched from there. This is the SES-8 GEO comsat scheduled for early July launch. This would be SpaceX’s second v1.1 launch and first GEO mission. Three – and what I hope he meant – is the actual first v1.1 launch of the CASSIOPE satellite into a high-inclination orbit from Vandenberg AFB, currently scheduled for June 18. If Elon plans to conduct first stage recovery tests on every upcoming F9 mission until success is achieved, the current SpaceX launch schedule shows that he has as many as five opportunities before the end of this year; four if only Canaveral launches count. Anybody out there have inside scoop that would pin this testing thing down for me?

  • My impression of his remarks is that once they begin using the upgraded Merlin engine they intend to begin tests. Musk was not clear on which launches, but it seemed pretty clear that they want to take advantage of every launch opportunity to test this technology.

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