Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Adds Landing Legs

A look at the landing legs SpaceX is mounting on its Falcon 9 rocket for the company's next cargo mission to the International Space Station, which is slated to launch on March 16, 2014.

Credit: Elon Musk /SpaceX

Putting landing legs on the Falcon 9 rocket, which is slated to blast off on March 16, marks another step in SpaceX's quest to develop a fully reusable launch system but current plans don't call for the Falcon 9 to actually touch down on the legs after next month's liftoff, said SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.

Elon Musk
"Mounting landing legs (~60 ft span) to Falcon 9 for next month's Space Station servicing flight," Musk said Sunday (Feb. 23) via Twitter, where he posted a photo of the rocket.

"However, F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes."

SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion contract to make 12 robotic supply runs to the space station for NASA using Dragon and the Falcon 9.

The company has already completed two of these flights successfully; the March 16 flight will initiate contracted mission number three.

But the company's ambitions extend far beyond low-Earth orbit. Musk has said that he established SpaceX primarily to help humanity become a multiplanet species, and he hopes the company plays a prominent role in getting a Mars colony up and running.

One key to making such big dreams a reality is developing a fully and rapidly reusable launch system, which Musk has said could lower the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100.

Toward that end, SpaceX has been testing a reusable rocket prototype called Grasshopper, which has a made a series of higher and more complicated flights over the past year and a half.

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