A Falcon 9 with legs attached. Image source: Elon Musk via Twitter.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted last night the above image of a Falcon 9 with legs attached. This booster is in the SpaceX horizontal integration facility at the Cape's Launch Complex 40.
In two accompanying tweets, Musk wrote:
Mounting landing legs (~60 ft span) to Falcon 9 for next month's Space Station servicing flight.
However, F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes.
The landing legs are to help evolve the SpaceX Grasshopper technology which intends to steer first-stage (and eventually upper stage) vehicles to a landing pad so they can be refurbished and used again.
Click the arrow to watch the October 7, 2013 Grasshopper test on YouTube. Video source: SpaceX.
While that demonstration is years in the future, for now SpaceX may attempt to demonstrate they can return the first stage to a specific target in the Atlantic Ocean.
This Falcon 9 will be used for their next commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station, scheduled to launch March 16. It's appropriate to use a NASA mission, because the agency's charter requires it to “contribute materially” to “the improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles.”