SpaceX Conducts First Firing for Falcon 9-R

Start Your Engines  Credit :  Elon Musk

Start Your Engines
Credit : Elon Musk

Based on a tweet from company founder Elon Musk, it appears that SpaceX has begun full-scale testing of all 9 engines for the Falcon 9-R  at the company’s McGregor, Texas development facility.  Musk tweeted  ” 1st firing of Falcon -R advanced prototype rocket. Over 1M lbs thrust,  enough to lift a skyscraper,”  accompanied by the image above.  Musk later clarified the comparison by saying “Vac thrust of 700 tons means avg of 14 tons/floor of structural steel for a 50 story building.”

Presumably, this was the first “test of unusual loudness” which Joseph Abbot has been keeping up to date on at, although there has yet to be any confirmation as to the duration or further specifics about the test.  If SpaceX follows the same routine as it has for both Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 development programs, it will conduct a full, mission length burn of all 9 engines prior to beginning the launch campaign for its next mission, the maiden flight for the Falcon 9 V1.1,  scheduled to launch out of Vandenberg, California.  

The designation as being a test of the Falcon 9-R  “advanced prototype rocket” as opposed to Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage is interesting,   particularly given `company’s intention to use each of its upcoming launches to progressively test first stage recovery after  second stage separation.  At that moment, each operational  Falcon 9 literally splits into two different rockets,  the first a conventional, expendable second stage on the way to space, and the second, a prototype test vehicle for first stage return.  As such SpaceX’s customers can take particular pride in the fact that they are materially contributing to the advancement of space exploration and commerce in a meaningful way.

The flight test program is also going to make every upcoming launch a fascinating experience far removed from tightly controlled, extremely conservative commercial space launches.  After separation, and with the payload hopefully safely on its way to orbit,  literally nobody knows what is going to happen next,  and how much of the mystery surrounding the most critical aspect of powered return will be peeled back on any given flight.   In so many aspects, this promises to take us back to  the early years of space flight testing, making it perhaps the summer’s most exciting reality drama.

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2 Comments on "SpaceX Conducts First Firing for Falcon 9-R"

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  1. Coastal Ron says:

    I believe that the Falcon 9-R that was tested today is the official name of the Falcon v1.1. On NewSpace Watch, someone that usually has good SpaceX info stated that the 1st stage tested is the one that will fly next out of VAB, and that the engines used were qualification engines and they will be swapped out for flight engines.

    As Musk has stated, they will do what they can to land the 1st stage in the ocean, and it looks like they will try to master each stage of recovery until they feel confident that it’s time to add on the landing legs. In parallel, it looks like the Grasshopper will be testing out the landing hardware and software, and at some point the two efforts will meet.

    And yes, exciting times!

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