KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s daring dream of rocket recycling and reusability is getting closer and closer to reality with each passing day. After a breathtaking series of experimental flight tests aimed at safely landing the firms spent Falcon 9 first stages on land and at sea over the past half year the bold effort achieved a major milestone by just completing the first full duration test firing of one of the landed boosters.
On Thursday, July 28, SpaceX engineers successful conducted a full duration engine test firing of a recovered Falcon 9 first stage booster at the company’s rocket development test facility in McGregor, Texas.
The SpaceX team has been perfecting the landing techniques by adopting lessons learned after each landing campaign attempt.
“We learned a lot … from the landings”, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of Flight Reliability, told Universe Today during the recent media briefings for the SpaceX CRS-9 space station cargo resupply launch on July 18.
“The key thing is to protect the engines,” Koenigsmann elaborated, while they are in flight and “during reentry”.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs at the base and four grid fins at the top to conduct the landing attempts.
“In general I think the landing concept with the legs, and the number of burns and the way we perform those seems to work OK,” Koenigsmann told Universe Today.
The July 28 test firing involved igniting all nine used first stage Merlin 1 D engines housed at the base of a used landed rocket.
Watch the engine test in this SpaceX video:
Video Caption: Falcon 9 first stage from May 2016 JCSAT mission was test fired, full duration, at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas rocket development facility on July 28, 2016. Credit: SpaceX
The used 15 story Falcon booster had successfully carried out an intact soft landing on an ocean going platform after launching a Japanese commercial telecommunications satellite only two months ago on May 6 of this year.
Just 10 minutes after launching the JCSAT-14 telecom satellite, the used first stage relit a first stage Merlin 1 D engine. It conducted a series of three recovery burns to maneuver the rocket to a designated landing spot at sea or on land and decelerate it for a propulsive soft landing, intact and upright using a quartet of landing legs that deploy in the final moments before touchdown.
Altogether SpaceX has successfully landed and recovered five of their first stage Falcon 9 boosters intact and upright since the history making first ever land landing took place just seven months ago in December 2015 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The most recent launch and landing occurred last week on July 18, 2016 during the dramatic midnight blastoff of the SpaceX CRS-9 commercial cargo resupply mission under contract for NASA.
Following each Falcon 9 launch and landing attempt, SpaceX engineers assess the voluminous and priceless data gathered, analyze the outcome and adopt the lessons learned.
CRS-9 marks only the second time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – at the location called Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1).
The history making first time successfully took place at Landing Zone 1 (LZ 1) on Dec. 22, 2015 as part of the ORBCOMM-2 mission. Landing Zone 1 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.
SpaceX also successfully recovered first stages three times in a row at sea this year on an ocean going drone ship barge using the company’s OCISLY Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) on April 8, May 6 and May 27.
Watch for Ken’s continuing SpaceX and CRS-9 mission coverage where he reported onsite direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
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