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Video of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) taking its first test flight at our rocket development facility. F9R lifts off from a launch mount to a height of approximately 250m, hovers and then returns for landing just next to the launch stand. Early flights of F9R will take off with legs fixed in the down position. However, we will soon be transitioning to liftoff with legs stowed against the side of the rocket and then extending them just before landing.
The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year (Grasshopper can be seen in the background of this video). Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a F9R as shown here, which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs. F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like.
Entering the atmosphere with the rocket motor facing the planet would make for a non-optimal profile being acted upon by the friction of re-entering the atmosphere
SpaceX achieves controlled landing of Falcon 9 first stage
The first stage was supposed to fire its engines twice after separating from the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage less than 3 minutes after liftoff Friday. The first burn was expected to slow the rocket's velocity enough to fall into a prescribed landing zone in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral, and a second firing was to have allowed the rocket to gently settle into the sea.
and begin to focus on the idea of a space plane, capable of lifting off from a runway, exiting the atmosphere, and re-entering it
Skylon is a design for a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane by the British company Reaction Engines Limited (REL). A fleet of such vehicles is envisaged, using SABRE, a combined-cycle, air-breathing rocket propulsion system, with a designed re-usability up to 200 flights each. In paper studies, the cost per kilogram of payload carried to low earth orbit in this way is hoped to be reduced from the current £15,000/kg (as of 2011), including research and development, to around £650/kg, with costs expected to fall much more over time after initial expenditures have amortised.