At a joint press conference with NASA yesterday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company will try a water landing of its Falcon 9 first stage later year. The landing will be the start of a series of flight tests that could culminate with an attempted propulsive landing of a first stage back at its launch site in the middle of 2014, Musk said.
During the initial test, the first stage will continue on a ballistic arc and execute a velocity reduction burn to cushion its re-entry into the atmosphere, the SpaceX chief said. Just before splashdown, the rocket will light up its engines again.
Musk said he expected to lose first stages during the initial recovery attempts. The company is looking to gain the experience and data needed to bring a first stage back to the launch site next year for a propulsive landing using retractable legs. He said that attempt could occur in mid-2014.