Spaceflight Insider

‘Three’s Company’: SpaceX hangar houses three used boosters

Three's Company

SpaceX’s Horizantal Integration Facility at former shuttle pad 39A now has three used boosters inside. The stage on the left was recovered at Landing Zone 1 on Dec. 21, 2015. The rocket on the right landed on a drone ship on April 8 after delivering the CRS-8 Dragon to ISS. The center booster was the most recently recovered stage, on May 6. Photo Credit: SpaceX

About a week after SpaceX landed its third Falcon 9 first stage on a solid surface—the second on a drone ship at sea—and brought it back to Port Canaveral, the company posted images of the three boosters in the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Launch Complex 39A.

Falcon 9 scars

Photo Credit: Jared Haworth / We Report Space

On Sunday, May 15, SpaceX posted on their Instagram account a photo of the company’s three recovered boosters—one from December 21, April 8 and May 6—as seen from outside the pad-facing hangar door.

The booster on the left (banner photo) landed at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) on Dec. 21, 2015. It was already test-fired at Launch Complex 40, showing no major problems with the engines. The recovered stage is slated to go in front of the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

The most recent booster landed on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” and was offloaded over the last number of days before being transported to the HIF on Saturday.

It landed after powering the JCSAT-14 mission toward its designated orbit. Because the payload was being delivered to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), it was going much faster than the previous landing attempt. The speed requirements for GTO missions allow very little fuel for recovery attempts.

As such, a burn to slow the stage down before entering the atmosphere was not conducted. Additionally, the final landing burn used three engines, instead of the single center engine, to slow the vehicle down much faster, thus using less fuel. The conditions this booster endured were much rougher than that of CRS-8 or even the Dec. 21 LZ-1 landing.

“Most recent rocket took max damage due to [very] high entry velocity,”Musk tweeted. “Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.”

Indeed images taken of the booster as it was being transported showed paint melted away and more burn scars on the exterior than the previous two.

It is unclear if SpaceX will certify this booster for a re-flight first before the CRS-8 booster. Either way, the results from the JCSAT-14 stage will show just how well the Falcon 9 will fair on high velocity landings. Roughly half of all of the company’s payloads have a destination of GTO.

HIF from above

A view of the three recovered boosters from inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 39A. The photo was tweeted by Elon Musk with the caption “Three’s Company.” In this image, the booster on the right is the stage that was recovered in December, while the booster on the left was from the April 8 CRS-8 launch. In the center is the stage from the most recent landing. Photo Credit: 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.

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