Falcon 9 First Stage “No Damage” After Hangar Inspection

F-9 First Stage in Hangar at 39A

F-9 First Stage in Hangar at 39A

Following the December 21st Orbcomm 2 mission which saw a Falcon 9 first stage successfully return to Cape Canaveral, a New Year’s Eve tweet from SpaceX founder Elon Musk gave a preview of what 2016 could bring.

The Instagram image accompanying the tweet showed a closeup of the booster’s upper section, including cold gas thruster and hypersonic grid fins, all of which appeared relatively unscathed.




As for the business end of the first stage, SpaceX also released a picture of the Falcon 9 (shown at top) now under shelter in the company’s cavernous new hanger at KSC’s Launch Complex 39 A. Although coated by soot, the 9 Merlin 1-D first stage engines like the tank structure, also appear to be in good shape. That proposition will soon be tested in what by circumstance will likely be the first Falcon 9 firing to take place at the historic launch complex which hosted both Saturn V and Shuttle launches in previous era, and has now been re-purposed to serve the Falcon Heavy. In a press conference following the Orbcomm launch and landing, Musk indicated that after undergoing testing to determine its actual status, the launcher will not be relaunched, but preserved for its historic value.

SpaceX will not lack for other recovery opportunities in 2016 however, as it faces a full manifest backed up even further as a result of last year’s CRS-7 failure. The next mission on tap is a January 17th launch of the NASA/NOAA Jason-3 satellite. which is scheduled for a 1:42 PM EST liftoff from the company’s west coast facility at Vandenberg, Ca.The booster being used for the Jason-3 mission is the last F-9 V1.1. Following shortly thereafter will be the SES-9 mission to out of Cape Canaveral, and then the CRS-8 flight to ISS, which is scheduled for February.

SpaceX has yet to specify which of the upcoming flights will feature landing attempts, or what form they may take, but various company officials have made no secret of the fact that they would very much like to re-launch a Falcon 9 first stage sometime in the coming year.

One interesting scenario involves the long anticipated debut of the Falcon Heavy. Announced in 2011 and originally predicted to be on the pad in Vandenberg in 2013, the first launch of what will be the world’s most powerful rocket is now anticipated to take place this year, with as many as four flights on tap including an unsold test flight, the Air Force Space Test Program 2, as well as flights for Inmarsat and ViaSat. Given the current backlog of missions, as well as the complexities of fielding the 27 first stage engine Falcon Heavy for the first time, it will hardly comes as a surprise if the new booster sees only a single launch this year, but once it enters service, each flight will offer the opportunity for recovering multiple cores. Before that takes place however, SpaceX will need to amend its various governmental licenses and impact statements, as the original requests for a return to Cape Canaveral specified only a single returning stage.

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3 Comments on "Falcon 9 First Stage “No Damage” After Hangar Inspection"

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  1. Has anyone found the Environmental Assessment (Impact Statement) for landing at Vandy (the old 4W site)

    Not sure if the Air Force has to do the same sort of EA as was done for the Cape, as that area is shared, and I assume Vandenberg is USAF only.

    If an EA specific to 4W does have to be performed and filed- then we might get a more clear picture of how the west Coast recovery of Falcon Heavy components will be performed. I assume the two booster stages are to land back at 4W and the core lands on the autonomous barge.

  2. Keith Pickering says:

    Will the Falcon Heavy ever need to launch from Vandenberg? Seems doubtful, since only polar orbits go from there, and polar implies LEO … not the ideal job for F-Heavy.

    • Zed_WEASEL says:

      Well you need something to replace the Delta IV Heavy for the NRO flights from VAFB. Supposedly the Delta IV Heavy will jump in price after the single core Deltas are retired.

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