SpaceX makes rocket science look easy: Falcon 9 passes tests

It's sooty, it's sound, it's back down on the ground

Merlin engines

Pics + vid The first SpaceX rocket to land after launching a payload into orbit has been checked out and is ready for a test burn, according to boss Elon Musk.

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Last month, SpaceX successfully landed its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket after depositing 11 Orbcomm satellites into low-Earth orbit, and has spent the Christmas break going over the hardware piece by piece. It's a little scarred by its multi-Mach trip through the atmosphere, but looks good to go say the Musketeers.

It's a little sooty, but that's to be expected. The first stage gets flamed on by the second stage of the rocket's engines when the two segments separate, and then when the first stage fires up again to slow down, the entire fairing gets a fair old toasting.

That's not to say the Falcon will ever escape the surly bonds of Earth again – Musk has already said the rocket will be put in the company's planned museum, alongside the first Dragon capsule to come back to the planet after visiting the International Space Station.

Instead, the firm is planning to refuel the rocket and do a static fire test to check that none of the second-hand parts fail. If successful then the firm will be well on its way to achieving the goal of slashing the cost of orbital delivery.

The next stage is to convince a company to entrust some highly expensive satellites to a second-hand rocket. No doubt the first firm to try it will get a sizable risk discount for trusting a used rocket – but if nothing goes wrong then SpaceX could be in a position to crush the competition for existing orbital deliveries.

Looking further ahead, SpaceX is planning the launch of its much-delayed Falcon Heavy lifter later this year. This is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped side-by-side, making it the most powerful rocket in the world by far, and if those Falcons can be reused the cost of orbital delivery will plummet. ®

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