VIDEO: SpaceX Falcon-9 OG2 First Stage Landing Test Provides Crucial Data to Support Next Test on NASA CRS-4 Flight

Experimental landing legs on the SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Experimental landing legs on the SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

It was only last week that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched the first wave of a next-generation telecommunications satellite fleet to orbit for customer ORBCOMM on the OG-2 mission, but the flight also gave the Hawthorne, Calif.-based aerospace company another opportunity to test out the experimental landing legs they hope will make their Falcon rockets truly reusable, and in doing so SpaceX expects to drive down the cost of launch dramatically by eliminating the need to build a new rocket for every flight.

The “soft-landing test” was the second such test carried out by SpaceX this year, where the Falcon-9 rocket’s first stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere and soft landed vertically in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral, Fla. Being that these early tests are completely experimental, a low-probability of success has always been expected and even emphasized by SpaceX. However, although the first stage from the OG-2 launch went “Kaboom” on landing, according to the company’s CEO Elon Musk, the test did produce a lot of relevant data which SpaceX needs to make a future test successful.

“After landing, the vehicle tipped sideways as planned to its final water safing state in a nearly horizontal position,” said SpaceX in a statement released July 22. “The water impact caused loss of hull integrity, but we received all the necessary data to achieve a successful landing on a future flight. Going forward, we are taking steps to minimize the build up of ice and spots on the camera housing in order to gather improved video on future launches.”

WATCH: Falcon-9 First Stage Soft-Landing Test #2 on ORBCOMM OG2 Launch

According to SpaceX, the second soft-landing test conducted during last week’s OG-2 launch confirms the Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket’s ability to “consistently reenter from space at hypersonic velocity, restart main engines twice, deploy landing legs and touch down at near zero velocity.”

The next Falcon-9 first stage soft landing test will have to wait a few flights, as the next two missions SpaceX is scheduled to fly, AsiaSat-6 and AsiaSat-8 on Falcon-9 flights 11 and 12, are both destined for geostationary orbit. Those kind of high-velocity missions, according to SpaceX, don’t allow enough residual propellant for landing. Those types of missions are, however, expected to fly on the company’s still-in-development mammoth Falcon Heavy rocket, and until the Falcon Heavy becomes operational the Falcon-9 will have to operate in expendable mode.

“At this point, we are highly confident of being able to land successfully on a floating launch pad or back at the launch site and re-fly the rocket with no required refurbishment,” added SpaceX in their statement. “We will attempt our next water landing on flight 13 of Falcon 9 with a low probability of success. Flights 14 and 15 will attempt to land on a solid surface with an improved probability of success.”

Falcon-9 flight 13, the next available first stage soft-landing test opportunity, is currently scheduled to launch the company’s autonomous unmanned Dragon spacecraft on their fourth Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-4) flight to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA no earlier than Sept. 12, 2014.


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Missions » Commercial Space » ORBCOMM » SpaceX OG2 M1 »


  1. Once again video from the vehicle cameras are very hard to decipher.

    On the previous attempt SpaceX had recovery ships, but the stage landed too far from them to allow video from the ships.

    (1) Were their recovery ships this time?
    (2) If so, was video from them attempted?
    (3) If not, why not.

    If the stage landed to far from the intended landing site again that does inspire confidence in SpaceX capability to make a landing with the required precision.

        • The previous attempt, like I said. You said that “On the previous attempt SpaceX had recovery ships”, I was offering a correction. They did want to have recovery ships, but the ships (and the P3 Orion) never made it out to the landing zone.

          As for this one, I haven’t heard details on what sort of recovery assets were out. Obviously at least one ship or plane was in range, since we have a much cleaner video this time around (ice notwithstanding).

  2. A heater on the camera lens should be cheap and definitely is in order.

    I doubt the ships were close enough for useful video. I wouldn’t want to be parked that close to a partially tested rocket landing however much I support and hope for SpaceX to succeed. I doubt the company or the appropriate agencies would allow it either. Even a partially filled rocket can make a big boom.

    • It can make a “big boom” on an expensive “floating launch pad” or “back at the launch site” (near a populated area) as well, assuming SpaceX can get it anywhere near the intended landing zone.

      Another interesting point is the reference to the “floating launch pad”.

      Is SpaceX beginning to prepare its supporters for the idea that the retrograde maneuver needed to get the stage back to the launch pad is not practical?

  3. Come on people, what they are doing is very very difficult. Its a tech that needs proving. A platform at sea would minimize the dangers around populated areas, should the booster go boom! Im sure SpaceX will reveal the complete story as they progress. Remember too, that if the Falcon heavy becomes totally reusable, then they will have more boosters to contend with within various landing zones. They are slowly but surely proving themselves.

    • There is a curious thing about SpaceX internet supporters.

      When Constellation Systems was still an ongoing program any problem (however trivial) was trumpeted as proof of the programs being “unsustainable”.

      Now similar tactics are used on ULA. On several other websites the comments sections are already celebrating the demise of the Atlas V (as if that were already a fact) and extrapolating that “fact” to SpaceX winning the commercial crew competition because the Dream Chaser and CST-100 will now have no launcher.

      But if someone even asks a question about SpaceX activities, suddenly its:
      – “Come on people, what they are doing is very very difficult.”
      – “Im sure SpaceX will reveal the complete story as they progress.”


      • Joe,

        I think it is possible that you are not taking into account the back and forth from people that have taken sides regardless of the facts on the ground. You and I are not on the same page regarding SpaceX, BUT I haven’t seen you distort the facts to make your points. I find the progress of SpaceX encouraging even while being seriously disturbed by the hype.

        I was one of the Constellation bashers when it was going on, just as I am an SLS basher now. One of my blog posts was on how much easier it would have been to mate two standard four segment boosters together than develop the five segment stick for Aries One. Eight well known segments ready to go against time and money for development of a five segment stick seems like a near no-brainer. And other technical issues that have been done to death.

        My main objection to the big rocket focus comes back to time and money. For a high volume station or interplanetary vehicle, there were over a hundred external tanks thrown away that could have been in use decades ago. For the time and money spent on Constellation and now SLS, dozens of Deltas and Atlases, including payloads, could have been bought and flown by now. Dozens more could fly real missions even before SLS becomes operational on the same budget. And so on without even invoking Musk and SpaceX.

        • John,

          We are perilously close to drifting off topic, but I will risk it for two comments.
          (1) I am not going to name the websites involved (not sure what the policy on that is here), but I do not think I am misinterpreting “back and forth” on these websites because there is very little back and forth. Any time a contrary point of view appears it is generally howled down by a larger number of posters. The gist of the “conversations” I read are as I described.
          (2) I do not want to get into rehashing the Ares I/Ares V 1 ½ launch scenario either. I was a supporter of the dual launch approach (using the Shuttle Side Mount Configuration) that was presented by John Shannon to the Augustine Commission (which ignored it). It was presented to NASA twice as well, but both Admiral Steidle and Administrator Griffin passed it over. Had that approach been taken (and the project not been canceled anyway – a big assumption) we would likely be within two years of the next human lunar landing.

          Sad, but true.

      • Thank you Joe for having a clear view of reality not clouded by wishfull thinking wrapped in a fog of what might possibly be . . . someday. I must admit though, it’s always amusing to hear Newspacers speak of launch vehicles as if they have already flown, when they have yet to fly off of the drawing board. If NASA attempted “reuseability” with such results, I can only begin to imagine the howls of incompetence and waste of taxpayer dollars (dollars that should, of course, be turned over to “entreprenuers” with no accounting strings attached). Good luck Joe, but I’m sure that by now you realize that whatever the truth, people will believe what they want to believe, (hey, there are still people out there who believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth).

  4. “At this point, we are highly confident of being able to land successfully on a floating launch pad or back at the launch site and re-fly the rocket with no required refurbishment,”

    Wow so even though there has been no inspection of returned engine hardware they believe they can just refuel and launch again…Anyone …Are they able to get that kind of DATA from the monitoring systems VIA the EP-3 or a private jet with a “pizza dish” antenna???

    • Based on experience with the Space Shuttle (the only engines to ever actually be reused): No.

      • Joe,
        So I am thinking that that the first thing required would be to get the engine systems completely disassembled and to then X-ray the pieces to look for even the smallest of fractures or cracks…or something like that be sure the material design stands up to the realized stresses? Does testing in simulator environments typically equal actual stresses for reused engine parts such as the Space Shuttle?

          • Joe,
            Neil says …..”SpaceX have undertaken considerable testing well beyond normal operational environments for engines and other components. They’ve all been designed from the get go with eventual reuse in mind plus all the instrumentation data they will have received from their actual flights so far.”…

            Does the space industry and NASA possess the technological level of testing in simulator environments typically equating to actual stresses for reused engine parts such as the Space Shuttle?

            • Tracy,

              The SSME’s were designed from the “get go” to be reused also.

              While they were never advertised to be reused with no refurbishment it was hoped that the labor hours needed for refurbishment would be much less than they turned out to be.

              Until the Falcon 9 engines have been reused multiple times, recovered and inspected to say that SpaceX is confident they can “re-fly the rocket with no required refurbishment” is (to put it politely) interesting.

              • Joe.
                Yes the comments regarding reuse are pretty interesting however your example comparing the SSMEs with the Merlin 1D is like chalk and cheese. Consider the two engines. SSMEs are highly sophisticated hydro lox staged combustion engines putting out around 3 times the thrust of the relatively simple pintle Kerolox gas generator engine. The lv itself is a 2 stage semi-pressurised vessels using the very latest manufacturing techniques which is also true of the electronics which are constructed with robustness and multiple redundancies.
                Manufacturing of the lv has been undertaken with reuse comprising simplicity, robust design and cost effectiveness built-in. This has been an entirely new approach for an lv vehicle.
                Granted there have been teething issues as with any new vehicle however they have each been addressed and improvements undertaken to prevent reoccurrence.

                The fact remains that the F9 by it’s flight record has so far (10 for 10 on primary payloads) proven to be a very robust design and SpaceX a cautious launch company not willing to fly with known issues.

                I continue to hope that SpaceX can advance their stated goal of reducing launch costs which will enable more missions to fly providing increasing access to space not just for things such as communications but also basic research and science missions which I rate as more important for an increasingly technological human race.

                Given the above beliefs, I will support wholeheartedly, any government agency or commercial body which demonstrates a willingness to embrace and further advance the aforementioned technological and science-based objectives using cost efficiencies in launch vehicles and operations.


                • Neil,

                  Quite a sales pitch, but none of that supports the idea that SpaceX will be able to “re-fly the rocket with no required refurbishment”. The same sorts of things were said about the SSME’s when they were the “brand new thing”.

                  Unless and until SpaceX can fly “the rocket” (by which it is assumed they mean the first stage) multiple times, recover it in some fashion and examine its condition the statement that it can be reused “with no required refurbishment” is again (to put it mildly) interesting.

                  Cheers to you as well.

                  • Hi Joe.
                    Well, I wasn’t actually trying for a sales pitch. Just discussing the features of SpaceX vehicles, systems and processes that would support re-usability.
                    FWIW EM discussed the Dragon V2 in the same terms, refuel and launch.

                    I agree, it’ll be nothing short of miraculous if there is nothing to do but fill the tanks and launch but final proof wil be in the pudding so to speak.

                    Either way, interesting times ahead.

                    PS ‘Cheers’ is an informal, friendly sign off DownUnder. Not sure where you’re posting from but hi anyway.
                    PPS Apologies if the above is not terribly coherent. My wife and I are dealing with some distress at her school having lost 2 students returning on MH17. Needless to say not too happy with Russia at present. Personally I think the U.S. really needs to leave them to it until their leadership demonstrates some level of civilised behaviour. Sorry off-topic comment.

                    • Neil,
                      Does it matter on engine complexity design if the material used and machined just doesn’t hold up? Remember Musk has said he expects to get 1000 reuses off of a single first stage F9 and at that rate if successful …An F9 launch could cost about $250,000 plus whatever profit margin he applies…

                    • Hi Neil,

                      Important point first, your posts are completely cognizant and in any case there is no reason to apologize. Sincere condolences to you and your wife on having lost people you knew in the Ukrainian incident. You are probably correct that it is off topic for this website, so I will let it go at that.

                      I reside in the territorial USA, but was familiar with “Cheers” as an Australian greeting. I had wondered if you were from there.

                      Now back to technical subjects. I had the good luck to know some of the people who worked on the Delta Clipper (SSTO) project. Their goal was 100 reuses with a ground crew of 50 taking a week for the turnaround. They were a very enthusiastic group (some of them now work for Blue Origin) and even they would admit that goal was ambitious. That is the reason that when people who have been involved in these sorts of things before here things like (1) 1,000 reuses, (2) One day turnaround, (3) No refurbishment required they get very skeptical.

                      I had not heard about the claim that the Dragon V2 was going to be a”kick the tires and light the fires” operation also, but that is even more reason to take SpaceX pronouncements with a grain (or perhaps a block) of salt.

                      As I understand it the Dragon engines are to be hypergolic (that should mean Nitrogen tetroxide and Hydrazine). Those types of engines are very simple and reliable, but the propellants are really nasty stuff (not only poisonous but caustic so it takes a toll on the fuel system). If I may be allowed one more story there was a project after the Challenger accident (cancelled of course) to develop what was called a Personal Launch System. One version would have been a bi-conic shaped vehicle with 2 sections (a crew module and service module). Because the service module would use Hypergolic it was designed to be split from the crew module for ground processing. Extra units of the service module would have been required because of the extra turnaround labor/time required. This requirement came from the people who had worked turnaround on the Shuttle OMS and had extensive experience with such work.

                      This has gotten too longwinded, so I will stop now.


  5. EM has always talked of bringing the stage back to the launch area so I’d say that the floating platform idea is a contingency against a possible delay in authorisation for a ‘land’ landing.
    So far as reuse goes, SpaceX have undertaken considerable testing well beyond normal operational environments for engines and other components. They’ve all been designed from the get go with eventual reuse in mind plus all the instrumentation data they will have received from their actual flights so far.
    Yeah, I’m not surprised by their comments.
    So far, SpaceX has stirred up the Europeans. I’d say that the rest of the existing launch industry is now wondering just how to counter what is proving to be an increasingly successful drive to at least partial re usability and the resultant impact on SpaceX costs and subsequent pricing for launch customers.
    This new development is possibly the most exciting thing to happen to space launch since SS1 first took to the skies.

    • Neil,
      What this really means …I hope …is that Lockheed Martin dusts off the X-33 and immediately begins testing of a SSTO protype to be put into service within 3 years…The Venture Star!!!

      • Hi Tracy. I checked with some of my contacts and unfortunately much of the basic tooling and test structures used in the X-33 have been dismantled and used in other test programs. A rough time estimate based on renewed funding at original levels says 5-6 years. No hint of such funding being available or even discussed.

        • Niel,
          What will the response be from Lockeed Martin when SpaceX lands a first stage on land or water and then declares they will be lowering their launch cost another 50% or so? Once SpaceX F9 cost goes below 10 Million…How will anyone compete unless they develop their own reusable systems.

  6. With the Musksiaah’s PR machine in high gear, Congress and the Air Force running scared, a venomously anti-NASA White House (golly, who did Musk hold a big-money Hollywood fundraiser for in 2008?), and his zealous disciples willing to crucify any non-believer and “drink the Kool-Aid” at the whim of the Golden Child, Elon could drop a fully-fueled falcon in the middle of Times Square and his cult of personality would declare it a complete and unquestioned success.

    • Karol,
      While I knew that Musk was a supporter of Obama…I didn’t realize that he did fund raising for him…I hope it was strictly for business sake as I find it hard to believe that our President even remotely understands any of the concepts that Musk promotes…

      • According to what I heard on the campaign trail in 2008 and subsequently, Musk was a Hillary Clinton, not Obama, supporter in 2008. The Hillary Clinton campaign’s lead space staffer and Musk met through their mutual friend, Ames Research Center Pete Worden. After Hillary’s presidential run crashed, the Obama folks sought-out the staffer for her connections to Musk and other big-dollar donors.

        The rumor at the time was that, in joining Obama’s campaign, the Hillary space staffer would likely become NASA Administrator, an easy decision for Obama since he could have cared less about NASA or the space program, as evidenced by one of his first campaign position papers published on November 22, 2007. Musk’s deal was that Constellation would be canceled and its funds would go to commercial crew, ie in large-part to SpaceX.

        • “The Hillary Clinton campaign’s lead space staffer” wouldn’t have the initials LG would they?

          • I’ll only say that the staffer was later the lead on the Obama transition NASA team. And that even in that short-term role managed to piss-off Armstrong enough that he wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

  7. What they have test data on reusable is the repeated flights of grasshopper and F9R at McGregor. What they are probably worried about is the airframe.

  8. James,
    Would launching to 3000 feet and back really demonstrate the complete stresses that the engines will experience? Musk has said he expects to get 1000 uses off an stage system…

  9. Hi Tracy. Not sure how to tag this reply to your post however on F9 1st stage reuse, I’ve never heard a figure of 1000 reuses. I thought it was perhaps 100 max but could be wrong. I had heard the figure of less than a million dollars per launch. I’ll check my sources. EM has spoken publicly on it and also Ms Shotwell.

    Frankly those are pretty unbelievable based on history but SpaceX is not prepared to follow but to take lessons and push improvements and innovation. Again, if they achieve those sorts of results, then I simply can’t see anyone running a conventional model ever competing with them provided they can do it with acceptable reliability.
    OTOH Boeing, LM and ULA plus other countries have plenty of talent. If they see it being achieved I’m pretty sure they’re not simply going to roll over without a fight. Space launch is a lucrative business and the profits are there for those who want it enough.

    Of course, SpaceX isn’t simply looking at short term profits, they want enough to invade Mars.


    • Well,
      It had to do with the being able to go to Mars for $500K a ticket…In order to achieve that price point he had to get 1000 reuses out of rocket system….

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