SpaceX Adds Steerable Fins to F9R for Flight Testing

What a fascinating time.  SpaceX RLV testing is proceeding on two fronts, one at Cape Canaveral with orbital launches, and the other at its McGregor Rocket Development Facility.  Yesterday, SpaceX released this video showing the next step in its sequential program. Here is the official description:

“Video of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) during a 1000m test flight at our rocket development facility in McGregor, TX. This flight was our first test of a set of steerable fins that provide control of the rocket during the fly back portion of return. The fins deploy approximately a minute and 15 seconds into the flight, and return to their original position just prior to landing. The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year. Early flights of F9R will take off with legs fixed in the down position, however we will soon transition to liftoff with legs stowed against the side of the rocket with leg extension just before landing. Future test flights of F9R at our New Mexico facility will include higher altitudes, allow us to prove unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more flight-like.”

Meanwhile, with two prior controlled reentry attempts, on the CASSIOPE and CRS-3 launches respectively, each meeting or surpassing its goals,  SpaceX is drawing ever closer to a controlled water landing and recovery  of the Falcon 9 first stage. While it could come as early as the Orbcomm OG2 launch presently on the pad, even if the booster is not fully recovered, a repeat of what it accomplished on the last attempt would signify a remarkable three out of three success rate, suggesting that the company is well on the way to perfecting the basics of bringing a live first stage back following its natural flight path. The sole remaining goal, and it is a big one for sure, is flying the booster back to the vicinity of the launch area for a powered touchdown  “on the hard.” This is clearly where the directional ability provided by the fins seen in the above comes into play. It is also why the next phase of F9R testing is so critical, and will determine if we are about to enter a new era once and for all.  If higher altitude testing scheduled to begin shortly in New Mexico proves out long distance directional flight, the company will have separately demonstrated all the pieces to combine efforts in one single production.


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