Late last week, SpaceX released video of a static fire test of its Falcon 9R (F9R) test vehicle, the successor to its Grasshopper vehicle used to test technologies for reusable launch vehicles. The static fire lasted about five second seconds, with the vehicle remaining on the pad at the company’s McGregor, Texas, test site.
“The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year. Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) as shown here, which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs,” the company said in the video’s description. “F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like.”
The mention of New Mexico above is a reference to SpaceX’s deal last year to conduct test flights from Spaceport America there. In October, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said those flights would begin by late December, but have yet to start. In comments Tuesday during a launch services panel at the Space Tech Expo conference in Long Beach, California, she said free flights of the F9R would begin soon, first in Texas and later from Spaceport America.
“We’re going to do some jumps with that in central Texas, and then once we finalize the pad in New Mexico, which I think we’re about a month away from that, then we’ll do as many flights as we can in New Mexico,” she said.
The F9R is one part (one leg?) of SpaceX’s reusability effort, with another being attempts to recover first stages of Falcon 9 rockets on missions like the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s third cargo mission to the ISS. Shotwell reiterated comments she made in a March radio interview that the company hopes to bring a Falcon 9 rocket stage back to a landing pad near the launch site before the end of this year, and reuse a stage on a launch in 2015.
Shotwell said she hopes they need as few as “one or two” recovery tests of Falcon 9 stages, but acknowledged the difficulty in attempting to bring back a rocket stage intact. “This is hard. This is actually really hard,” she said at Space Tech Expo. “We keep chipping away at it, though.”