Elon Musk’s space company has taken another key step toward re-using its most expensive vehicle, the Falcon 9 rocket, by test-firing a previously-used first stage.
In May, the rocket containing nine engines and their fuel tanks stage sent a Japanese communication satellite nearly 37,000 km (22,990 miles) into space, before flying back down to land gently on a robotic platform at sea. Yesterday, the 40-meter rocket was clamped to a test stand in McGregor, Texas, and fired through the simulation of an entire flight into space.
The rocket did fine: Nine Merlin engines combined rocket fuel and super-chilled liquid oxygen to produce 1.8 million lbs (800,000 kg) of fiery, smoky force, leaving the rocket straining to take off and producing a pretty dramatic show. According to company officials, no problems were found during the 2:30 test run.
With that test complete, SpaceX is checking off the items needed to actually fly the rocket on a real mission. Luxembourg satellite giant SES is expected to be the first customer to put one of its products on top of a previously-used rocket, perhaps as soon as this autumn. Should all go well, SpaceX officials believe that they will be able to cut prices by 30 percent by using recycled rockets.
So far, SpaceX has recovered five Falcon 9 first-stages.