Spaceflight Insider

NASA official: SpaceX to try landing Falcon 9 first stage on solid ground with next attempt

SpaceX facilities at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A photo credit Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A is big enough to house five Falcon 9 rockets at once. Photo Credit: Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — During an event held for the media highlighting NASA’s efforts to promote and encourage commercial space efforts, an interesting bit of information came out. During this event, it was stated that SpaceX plans its next launch (no specific date or mission was given) to include an attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Landing Complex 1 (formerly SLC 13).

If the landing is a success, the landed and recovered first stage will be used as a test article for integration testing and validation at LC-39A, including tests of the transporter/erector, umbilical arms, and propellant fueling.

Of the nineteen launches that SpaceX has conducted to date, eighteen have been carried out from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida and one from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA Commercial Crew Program Carol Scott at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A photo credit Bill Jelen / SpaceFlight Insider

The revelation about SpaceX’s plans for its next landing attempt and the fate of key components at LC-39A were made by NASA’s Carol Scott. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen / SpaceFlight Insider

Launch Complex (LC) 39A was signed over to SpaceX in April of 2014 through a 20-year lease that the NewSpace firm signed with NASA. The site, where the first men launched for the Moon and where many space shuttle missions were sent aloft, is now being configured to support both Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 launches.

As noted in a report by Florida Today’s James Dean, if SpaceX can successfully land their Falcon 9 rockets on land, it would serve as a game changer for the launch service provider market as it would mean the cost to orbit will dramatically decrease as engines and other vital components could be reused on subsequent missions.

A change in the status of what SpaceX will do to LC-39A was also noted during the event.

It was announced that SpaceX has selected a contractor to remove the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) beginning in January. It cannot be demolished (per NASA), but it will be dismantled and moved to a processing facility where NASA or museum partners may decide to claim pieces for display or possibly for some future use.

Under this agreement, SpaceX will handle the contractor removing the structure, but the structure remains the property of NASA. This is in contrast with earlier reports that they’d be leaving the RSS in place.

Much like the gaseous hydrogen vent arm and other elements of historic LC-39A, these parts will likely be stored at NASA’s Ransom road location near Kennedy Space Center. This is, in essence, an open field situated just outside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

According to Carol Scott, who works with aspects pertaining to Technical Integration in terms of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) who presented this information to the media, it should take until sometime this summer before the RSS has been removed.

Scott stated that it should not impede pad operations while it is being removed. Meaning that SpaceX should still be able to finish testing, and even launch while that work is underway.

While not easily visible from the usual media viewing location outside of the fence at LC-39A, work appears to be proceeding steadily to convert the pad over to SpaceX’s purposes.


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Daniel Wisehart

So does this mean that SpaceX has a floating barge for sale now?

Hi Daniel,
From what we understand, SpaceX will keep the barge on standby just in case the FAA denies their request.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

The barges (or an evolution of them) can remain useful because the performance penalty is lower. If a payload is light enough for a return to land (The next OG-2 launch is only around 1900kg), then getting the stage back home is both quicker and doesn’t involve nearly as much exposure to ocean weather. But there’s likely to be a payload weight class where they can recover the stage on the barge but not to the shore.

Getting landings to work in both cases gives them some flexibility, especially if they want to try recovering the center core of FH one day.

Javier Solorzano

Blue Origin has already successfully accomplished VTVL on 11/24/15. The fact that it was a sub orbital test flight is irrelevant. It was still a fully outfitted flight successfully returning the crew capsule and first stage; the historic first time this has ever been accomplished. I’m a fan of SpaceX and when they accomplish vtvl to Earth orbit it will be an ADVANCEMENT and a great accomplishment, but vertical takeoff vertical landing has already been accomplished for the first time in a real world RealFlight scenario (just the passengers were missing) unlike SpaceX’s grasshopper tests which only went up a few hundred feet.

Irrelevant? I suppose if you consider lateral velocity of approx. mach 6 irrelevant then sure.

Blue Origin was merely an advancement of Grasshopper.

— During an event held for the media highlighting NASA’s efforts to promote and encourage commercial space efforts, an interesting bit of information came out. Where such information?

As the article clearly states (directly after the sentence you noted in fact), the information noted – was that the next attempt at landing the Falcon 9’s first stage – would be a ground landing attempt back at the Cape.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

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