SpaceX have once again successfully launched another Falcon 9 rocket into orbit. Classified as CRS-3 (Commercial Resupply 3) the Dragon capsule is carrying a variety of supplies including 4 HD cameras for Earth observation, Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) which is a laser communication device similar to what is carried on the Lunar Reconnaissance orbiter and the recently departed LADEE. Not only is it carrying those but also a set of legs for Robonaut 2.
More significantly, the 1st stage of the falcon booster is equipped with landing legs. In an ambitious test SpaceX plan on rotating the 1st stage back towards Cape Canaveral and fire the engines for a controlled descent then the legs will deploy and the 1st stage will gently land back on Earth to be reused. This is quite a big deal since it would dramatically reduce the costs associated with building new stages. The overall idea could work and “Grasshopper” tests have already been a success. SpaceX aim to complete these tests on all flights (where feasible) until they can “Nail” a pinpoint landing with the 1st stage.
Following on from that they then hope to achieve the same with the 2nd stage which will need heat shielding as it does reach Low Earth Orbit.
If, and it is a BIG IF, it can be done. Space X would have accomplished the seemingly impossible. A fully reusable space craft. Not even NASA achieved that with Shuttle since the large orange external tank burned up after launch.
For now though. Dragon will be arriving on station early next week and we should soon find out if the 1st stage test worked.
Also as an aside, a few days ago NASA announced that launch complex 39A would be leased out to SpaceX. 39A was the launch pad for Apollo 11 and numerous shuttle launched. It seems fitting that the site where man first left to land on the moon, is now the site for a new chapter in spaceflight.