SpaceX has pushed its new reusable rocket prototype to record heights, just a few short weeks after the vehicle's maiden flight.
A spectacular new SpaceX video shows the company's Falcon 9 Reusable rocket (Falcon 9R for short) soaring to 3,300 feet (1,000 meters), about four times as high as the rocket went during its first flight test last month.
The stunning footage, which was released on Friday, was captured by a flying drone, providing a bird's-eye view of the action. The video shows the Falcon 9R taking off from SpaceX's rocket-development facility in McGregor, Texas, scaring some nearby cows and then touching down as planned back at the pad about two minutes after launch.
During the May 1 test flight, the Falcon 9R took off with its landing legs extended. In future tests of the rocket, the legs will lie against the side of the rocket initially, then deploy in time for landing, SpaceX representatives have said.
SpaceX is developing reusable rockets in an attempt to dramatically reduce the costs of launching satellites and people into space. Fully and rapidly reusable launch vehicles could make spaceflight 100 times cheaper, company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.
Such rockets could therefore help make a Mars colony much more feasible — a big priority for Musk, who has said that he started SpaceX primarily to make humanity a multiplanet species.
Screengrab from a video of SpaceX's Falcon 9 Reusable rocket during a test flight on May 1, 2014.
The F9R is very close in design to the Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX already uses to launch its unmanned Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9's first stage is fueled by oxygen and kerosene and has nine Merlin rocket engines.
SpaceX has been ramping up its reusable-rocket tests lately. During the latest Dragon resupply launch, which took place on April 18, the company succeeded in bringing the Falcon 9's first stage back to Earth for a soft ocean splashdown, a world first. SpaceX also completed tests of its Grasshopper reusable-rocket program last year after a number of successful flights.
— Elizabeth Howell, Space.com
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First published May 5 2014, 5:55 PM