Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to sport landing legs for NASA CRS 3 mission to ISS

SpaceX has mounted landing gear on the Falcon 9 v1.1 which will launch the Dragon spacecraft conducting the CRS-3 cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station on March 16. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is implementing plans to have the next of the firm’s highly-successful Falcon 9 (F9) launch vehicles have landing gear affixed to the rocket. The purpose of this system is to have the F9 v1.1 return to Earth, landing safely back at the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. It is hoped that this system will herald the era of the Falcon 9 as a reusable launch system.

SpaceX has added the four legs to the F9 v1.1 which will fly the third cargo resupply mission the company is carrying out under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-3) contract. The mission is currently slated to take place on March 16.

One of the Falcon 9's landing gear. Photo Credit: SpaceX

One of the Falcon 9’s landing gear. Photo Credit: SpaceX

“There are a number of upgrades to that particular Dragon configuration which is going to give NASA even more of the types of critical cargo that they are looking to both bring up and bring back,” said SpaceX’s President, Gwynne Shotwell.

If this inaugural flight is successful, it could mark a dramatic change as to how missions are launched in the future. As it currently stands, all launch vehicles are discarded after they deliver their payloads to orbit. This is one of the reasons why space efforts are so expensive. Having the rocket’s first stage return, should allow for the first stage’s engines reused in some capacity.

“As I’ve said before, I think it is going to take us several flights before we are successful in that (having the F9’s first stage return safely to the launch site),” said SpaceX’s CEO and founder, Elon Musk. “I am not sure it will be this flight where we are successful, but, that is our aspiration and that is one of the key design goals of the upgrade, the new version of the Falcon 9.”

According to a report appearing on, the pneumatic cylinders which are powered via high-pressure helium which will deploy after staging and the first stage’s return to the SLC-40 launch site.

This image of the landing gear was tweeted by SpaceX's Elon Musk. Photo Credit: SpaceX

This image of the landing gear was tweeted by SpaceX’s Elon Musk. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has been working to gain extensive experience with having a rocket launch and then land via the test flight’s of SpaceX’s Grasshopper test article which has conducted numerous flights from the company’s McGregor facilities located in Texas.

“The initial recovery attempts (of the first stage) will be from a water landing, so after first stage separation, the first stage will continue in a ballistic arc and execute a velocity-reduction burn before hitting the atmosphere to lighten the impact and then right before splashdown of the stage it is going to light the engine again,” Musk said. “So there will be two burns after stage separation if things go well. But, you know, I really want to emphasize that we don’t expect success in the first several attempts.”

SpaceX has launched three of the F9 v1.1s, one from the company’s new facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California (CASSIOPE) and two from Cape Canaeral’s SLC-40 (SES-8 and Thaicom 6).


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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

Incredible! I, personally see this being a success, sooner then later.

Complete team effort, best of the best working together, SpaceX and NASA.

This is inspiring time to be alive. Please allow me to repeat myself: each launch by SpaceX has been FIERCE to watch such POWER. On the emotional side, a beacon of hope for the future in many aspects. I am humbled and in awe of this great time. A time where we are no longer looking toward to the future. SpaceX has made the future, the present. The future is here. When I hear the song, Counting Stars, Mr. Elon Musk, is whose name, comes to mind. He has taken his dream and made it come true. When others said it could not be done. This fueled him forward. A man imparted with gifts that he uses fully. A mentor for the entire human race.

Yes, sooner then later, this next phase will be accomplished.

And sincere appreciation to the NASA engineers who helped solve the fuel slosh and staging problems that would caused early failures, and gratitude to the American taxpayer who poured so many millions into Musk’s research and development efforts.

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