SpaceX Releases Images of Falcon First Stage During Descent

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Falcon 9 first stage in a controlled descent toward the Pacific Ocean. At this point, the stage was about 3 meters (9.8 feet) above the water. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has released two photos showing the first stage of the controlled descent of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle’s first stage during a demonstration flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Sept. 29.  The images are part of a mission overview on the company’s website that includes the following description:

“Though not a primary mission objective, SpaceX was also able to initiate two engine relights on the first stage. For the first restart burn, we lit three engines to do a supersonic retro propulsion, which we believe may be the first attempt by any rocket stage. The first restart burn was completed well and enabled the stage to survive reentering the atmosphere in a controlled fashion.

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Falcon 9 first stage burns an engine during a controlled descent to the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: SpaceX)

“SpaceX then lit the center engine for a single engine burn. That relight also went well, however we exceeded the roll control authority of the attitude control thrusters. This particular stage was not equipped with landing gear which could have helped stabilize the stage like fins would on an aircraft. The stage ended up spinning to a degree that was greater than we could control with the gas thrusters on board and ultimately we hit the water relatively hard.

“However, SpaceX recovered portions of the stage and now, along with the Grasshopper tests, we believe we have all the pieces to achieve a full recovery of the boost stage.”