WASHINGTON — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will test its flyback booster technology during the maiden launch of its Falcon 9 1.1 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California later this year, according to the company’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial launch license. 

In the first of a planned series of reusability tests, SpaceX plans to maneuver the first stage of the Falcon 9 1.1 rocket — an upgraded version of the current Falcon 9 — after it separates from the rest of the vehicle during the flight. The stage would be brought down in the Pacific Ocean for what is being called a soft water landing.

SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk alluded to the test back in March, after the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company completed its second cargo delivery mission to the international space station. 

The company’s FAA license provides some details of the planned test during a flight whose main mission is to deploy the Canadian Space Agency’s Cascade, SmallSat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (Cassiope) satellite.

“After stage separation, an experimental burn with three Falcon 9 first stage engines may be made to reduce the Stage 1 entry velocity just prior to entry, followed by a second experimental burn with one engine to impact the water with minimal velocity,” the Aug. 2 license reads. 

According to one NASA manifest, launch is scheduled Sept. 10 from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4E, SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra told SpaceNews Aug. 29.

“Falcon 9 and its payload are at SpaceX’s Vandenberg launch pad preparing for flight,” Ra said. 

A successful Cassiope launch, which is also a test of the 5.2 meter-diameter fairing SpaceX developed, would clear the way for the company to begin flying out its substantial backlog of commercial satellites. 

Meanwhile, according to SpaceX’s FAA license, the first Falcon 9 1.1 will also carry five ride-along satellites. These are: 

  • The Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer built by the Colorado Space Grant Consortium with help from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Air Force Space Command and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell University’s CUSat spacecraft, a pair of twin nanosatellites. The CUSat experiment is designed to test whether one satellite can diagnose the health of another in space. 
  • Three Polar Orbiting Passive Atmospheric Calibration Sphere cubesats developed and funded by a consortium including Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky.; the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark; Planetary Systems Corp. of Silver Spring, Md.; Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.; and Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Featuring upgraded engines, the Falcon 9 1.1’s core stage will generate about 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level and about 1.5 million pounds of thrust in a vacuum, making the rocket about 50 percent more powerful than the current Falcon 9 core. Falcon 9 1.1 will be a permanent replacement for the current Falcon 9, which has now flown successfully five times, including on two contracted cargo delivery missions to the international space station for NASA.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...