First SpaceX Falcon 9 scheduled to be re-flown tested at McGregor
SpaceX recently tested the previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage assigned to send the SES-10 communications satellite into space. That mission will mark the first time the company has re-flown one of its recovered boosters.
The stage was tested in late January 2017 at SpaceX’s rocket development and test facility in McGregor, Texas, by completing a static test fire in which all nine Merlin 1D engines were fired at once for a few seconds. The company tests all its Falcon 9 boosters here before shipping each to their designated launch areas, currently either Florida or California.
The SES-10 mission is currently looking to launch no earlier than early March 2017, after the CRS-10 Dragon capsule and EchoStar 23 communications satellite are launched on Feb. 14 and Feb. 28, respectively.
This particular stage was recovered in April 2016 after lofting the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station. After propelling the second stage and payload out of Earth’s atmosphere, the first stage made a propulsive landing on the deck of SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You drone ship some 190 miles (300 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean.
It was the first successful “at-sea” landing by a Falcon 9 booster and the second overall to be recovered.
Over the last few years, SpaceX has been actively working to propulsively land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rockets in order to inspect and eventually reuse them. The first successful landing occurred during the Orbcomm OG2 mission in December 2015. Since then, six more boosters were recovered both on land and at sea.
In May 2016, the company successfully landed a stage after a high-energy geostationary transfer orbit mission. SpaceX said that booster, which sent the JCSAT-14 communications satellite to space, went through the harshest conditions it expects a recovered stage to go through.
The California-based company decided to use the JCSAT-14 booster as its “life leader” and has since put it through numerous inspections and stress tests. Additionally, the stage was put through least seven full-duration test firings at McGregor. One of those firings can be seen in the video below.
The JCSAT-14 booster will not fly again.
According to Spaceflight Now, the booster that will be used for SES-10 will only be put through the standard preflight testing. This means the next step will be for it to be shipped to Cape Canaveral and integrated for launch.
SpaceX is taking the information it is learning from recovered boosters and modifying the design of the Falcon 9 to make full and rapid reusability easier. This new Falcon 9 Block 5 is expected to fly no earlier than late 2017.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.