As part of its effort to create a partially reusable space rocket, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. installed landing legs on the first stage of the Falcon 9 launcher scheduled to loft the Hawthorne, Calif., company’s next cargo-resupply mission to the international space station on March 16.
The company will not actually attempt to recover the rocket’s first stage following the launch, the third of 12 the company owes NASA under a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract signed in 2008. But SpaceX engineers will be able to observe how the four landing legs change Falcon 9’s flight profile, SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk said via Twitter March 23.
SpaceX hopes to eventually be able to recover and reuse Falcon 9’s first stage by steering it back to Earth for a soft touchdown on solid ground. That day will not be March 16, Musk said March 23 in another tweet.
Falcon 9’s core “will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” Musk tweeted.
SpaceX has been test-flying reusable rocket technology for Falcon 9 since 2011. In a Sept. 29 test, performed during the launch of a Canadian space weather satellite, SpaceX managed to relight Falcon 9’s core stage after it separated from the rocket’s second stage — the nominal first step in the booster-recovery process.