SpaceX has landed five Falcon 9 rockets since the company started trying in 2015, but yesterday it put one of them through the first major test to see if it will ever fly again. The company posted a video to YouTube last night that shows the tied-down rocket firing at full thrust for just under three minutes — essentially the same amount of time that they would fire during a normal trip to space.
This particular 14-story-tall rocket was used to send a Japanese communications satellite to space back in May. It was recovered shortly after launch when the rocket returned to Earth and landed on SpaceX’s seafaring drone ship. This was the second rocket that SpaceX successfully landed on the autonomous ship, and the third rocket that the company recovered at the time.
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, is trying to make the company’s rockets reusable as a way of saving money. Getting things (or people) to space is an expensive venture, and being able to use rockets more than once could cut the cost by millions of dollars.
One step closer to sending a recovered rocket back to space
This test was an important step toward that goal because SpaceX has not yet attempted to re-fly any of the five Falcon 9 rockets that the company has landed. Musk and Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president for flight reliability, have said that they plan to attempt this sometime in September or October. Koenigsmann said earlier this month that the company will likely use the first rocket that the company landed at sea for that test.
SpaceX has performed a shorter test of at least one other landed rocket. In January, the company fired up the first rocket it ever landed, the Falcon 9 that touched down on solid ground at Cape Canaveral in December. The company discovered "thrust fluctuations" in one of the rocket’s nine engines, a problem that could stop it from ever flying again. Of course, the fate of that particular Falcon 9 was sealed before that test even took place. Hours after it landed, Musk admitted his plans to keep that rocket as a souvenir.