SpaceX’s F9R Reusable Rocket Test Bed Flies Again

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Space Exploration Technologies Corp. continued its rocket reusability experiments May 1 sending the three-engine F9R vehicle 1,000 meters above SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, test site before bringing it back down for a soft landing.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted a video of the vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing rocket’s test flight on Twitter May 2.

As with the previous F9R flight, and all the flights of the now-retired, single-engine Grasshopper test vehicle that preceded it, SpaceX’s low-altitude reusability test bed used fixed landing legs for its May 1 flight. Future iterations will use deployable landing legs similar to those SpaceX installed on the Falcon 9 rocket that lofted a capsule full of cargo to the international space station April 18.

As part of the April 18 launch, SpaceX steered Falcon 9’s first stage back into the atmosphere and then deployed its four extendable legs for a simulated soft “landing” at sea. The experiment was a success, Musk said in an April 25 press conference, although the stage was not recovered due to sea conditions. SpaceX may fly a recovered first stage as soon as 2015, Musk said. That flight would be a high-risk endeavor, and so will likely launch with a dummy payload, Musk said at the press conference.