SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has launched satellites into orbit and carried cargo to the International Space Station and back again on multiple occasions, is getting a serious upgrade. It’s engines are getting higher throttle settings, condensed fuel, and some new structural modifications. This week, the company put the rocket through its first static test fire.
The 15-second burn looks impressive, with red-hot flames and smoke pouring out, but ultimately was rather uneventful (which is actually great news when you’re firing rockets). Watch a video of it here:
SpaceX rockets have been grounded since an explosion in June destroyed a cargo shipment to the International Space Station. Investigations into the accident pinpointed a failure in struts holding a high-pressure helium tank.
But it sounds like SpaceX is just about ready to get back into the game. At a forum in Berlin on Thursday, SpaceX CEO said, “We hope to launch again in a couple of months — I guess maybe six to eight weeks or so from now — and if things go well, we’ll be able to land the rocket, although I’ll be happy if it just gets to orbit, of course… But hopefully, it will come back to land as well, and that will be an important milestone for space exploration.”
The updated engine design was already planned before the explosion, and SpaceX is taking pains to ensure that the struts don’t fail again.
The new engines will boast an extra boost. According to Spaceflight Now, each of the nine engines on the Falcon 9 rocket will provide 170,000 pounds of sea level thrust—up from 147,000 on the previous version.
The new upgrades will help the rocket carry heavier cargo into space, and will hopefully leave enough propellant left over after the launch to do a controlled landing of the rocket’s first stage. That would help to usher in an era of rockets that are reusable and hence, cheaper.