SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access. The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once. Compare that to a commercial airliner – each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime. Following the commercial model, a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of traveling to space by a hundredfold.
While most rockets are designed to burn up on reentry, SpaceX rockets are designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad or ocean landing site for a vertical landing. Through reusability testing during flight and on the ground in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX has made great strides toward this goal.
In 2014, SpaceX conducted testing of the F9R development test vehicle – an advanced prototype for the reusable Falcon 9. The F9R test vehicle is essentially a Falcon 9 first stage with landing legs designed to test the precision landing techniques needed to return a rocket to Earth intact. F9R completed successively higher tests in McGregor, Texas, topping out with a 1000m test using steerable grid fins. These tests provided invaluable information for future flight testing.