In a critical step toward actually re-using reusable rockets, on Thursday at its McGregor test center SpaceX fired up a Falcon 9 first stage that returned from space just two months ago. And it seemed to perform beautifully.
The honor of this static test fire didn’t go to the first Falcon 9 booster to land back on terra firma—that rocket is going to be a museum piece. Nor did it go to the second, which has already been flagged for re-flight sometime in the fall, and is considered too valuable to tinker with.
Instead, it went to the third recovered stage, which flew the Japanese JCSAT communications satellite into space on May 6th. That trip’s high-altitude orbit, more than 22,000 miles above the equator, saw the first stage booster re-enter Earth’s atmosphere faster and hotter than ever before. If its systems managed to survive intact, boosters that returned under less abusive conditions are likely to be okay, too.
Nine Merlin 1D engines roared to life for nearly 3 minutes on Thursday as powerful restraints kept the 156 foot-tall rocket strapped to the ground. While preliminary evaluations suggest that the booster is in good shape, a more rigorous battery of tests is ongoing. Still no word from SpaceX on when any of these puppies are going to be relaunched, but it seems we’re edging ever closer to that day.