A Falcon 9 rocket shortly after the CRS-6 landing attempt in April 2015. This was one of many landing failures in SpaceX reusable launch system development program Photo Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX has landed a Falcon 9 first stage successfully 16 times since December 2015. Seven of those have been at Landing Zone-1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station while the rest have been on ocean-going platforms in either the Pacific or Atlantic. But that was after years of tests and “rapid unscheduled disassembles” otherwise known as explosions.
The test program started in 2012 with low-altitude hops of the Grasshopper test article at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. These became progressively more ambitious culminating in a 2,440-foot (744-meter) flight lasting 79 seconds in late 2013.
While Grasshopper utilized a Falcon 9 version 1.0 core, the next test article used a version 1.1 core. Dubbed “F9R,” it flew successfully four times and tested steerable grid fins that would be used on actual recovery attempts. The fifth flight of F9R ended with an explosion on Aug. 22, 2014.
SpaceX’s recovery program continued with soft-landing attempts over the ocean. The first of these was deemed a failure as aerodynamic forces caused an ...