NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., completed wind tunnel testing for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorn, Calif., to provide Falcon 9 first stage re-entry data for the company's advanced reusable launch vehicle system.
If Spacex gets a reusable (with insignificant maintenance) first stage they could lower the costs of their launches by about half. If they get all stages reusable with very low maintenance costs they could lower costs by one hundred times.
Tests were conducted at several orientations and speeds ranging from Mach numbers 0.3, or 228 miles per hour at sea level, to Mach 5, or 3,811 miles per hour at sea level, to gage how the first stage reacts during the descent phase of flight.
In addition to wind tunnel testing, Marshall is providing propulsion engineering support to SpaceX in the development of the SuperDraco Launch Abort System (LAS) and on-orbit propulsion systems. Marshall is supplying SpaceX with Reaction Control Systems lessons learned that will be incorporated into the Dragon spacecraft's design for steering and attitude control. Marshall engineers also are providing technical insight in the development of materials and processes to support future improvements of the Falcon 9 and Dragon to be used in the SpaceX Commercial Crew Development Program.
The reusable first stage is shown on the left after landing