American space company SpaceX successfully tested a stage of what they hope will eventually become a reusable rocket, the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R).
Even as its Falcon 9 rocket blasted its Dragon cargo capsule towards the International Space Station last Friday, aerospace company SpaceX was preparing another feat. On Monday April 21, SpaceX launched a variant of the Falcon 9 design from its facility in Texas. The rocket in question is a prototype of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R).
The F9R successfully blasted off and rose to an altitude of 250 meters. The rocket briefly hovered at that altitude before safely descending back to the launch pad. The entire maneuver was captured on video by a drone aircraft.
SpaceX intends the F9R design eventually to become the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket; such reusability would substantially reduce the cost of space launches, which currently rely upon disposal rockets. Future assessments will see the F9R launched from SpaceX’s New Mexico test facility. During those evaluations, the rocket will be launched with the landing legs tucked away and to greater heights to more closely approximate conditions during an actual launch and landing.
In the meantime, SpaceX Dragon capsules will continue to ferry cargo, and eventually astronauts, to the space station. Friday’s launch was the third of 12 planned Dragon cargo runs to the station as part of SpaceX’s $1.6 billion contract with NASA.