In a critical step toward actually re-using reusable rockets, on Thursday at its McGregor test centre SpaceX fired up a Falcon 9 first stage that returned from space just two months ago. And it seemed to perform beautifully.
The honour of this static test fire didn’t go to the first Falcon 9 booster to land back on terra firma — that rocket is going to be a museum piece. Nor did it go to the second, which has already been flagged for re-flight sometime in spring, and is considered too valuable to tinker with.
Instead, it went to the third recovered stage, which flew the Japanese JCSAT communications satellite into space on May 6. That trip’s high-altitude orbit, about 36,000km above the equator, saw the first stage booster re-enter Earth’s atmosphere faster and hotter than ever before. If its systems managed to survive intact, boosters that returned under less abusive conditions are likely to be OK, too.
Most recent rocket took max damage, due to v high entry velocity. Will be our life leader for ground tests to confirm others are good.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 15, 2016
Nine Merlin 1D engines roared to life for nearly three minutes on Thursday as powerful restraints kept the 47m-tall rocket strapped to the ground. While preliminary evaluations suggest that the booster is in good shape, a more rigorous battery of tests is ongoing. Still no word from SpaceX on when any of these puppies are going to be relaunched, but it seems we’re edging ever closer to that day.