Reports have been confirmed that SpaceX's Falcon 9-R development vehicle made its first free flight today at McGregor — taking off, hovering, moving sideways and landing. I've seen video of it (though it turns out that video wasn't supposed to be made public yet and is no longer available).

SpaceX McGregor will be testing the rocket — the three-engine successor to the single-engine Grasshopper — at lower altitudes before sending it to Spaceport America in New Mexico for higher (and farther) flights.

The eventual idea is to have a rocket stage that can return to its launch site for re-use, rather than burning up on re-entry. SpaceX hopes to test different parts of that capability after a launch of the full nine-engine Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., set for 2:25 p.m. CDT Friday (though the forecast is still iffy — only a 40 percent of acceptable weather, rising to 60 percent for a Saturday attempt and 80 percent for a Tuesday launch).

After the Falcon 9's second stage sends the Dragon cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station, the first stage is planned to fire three of its nine engines for a controlled, non-burning-up descent from orbit, then fire one engine just before an Atlantic Ocean splashdown so it can drop into the water with minimal damage (a test over water means no one gets hurt if anything goes wrong, and SpaceX only gives about a 40 percent chance that the test will fully succeed).

The one time they tried this before, in a September launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, they got the stage most of the way home before it spun out of control. The landing legs added to the Falcon 9 this go-round are hoped to help stabilize the rocket during splashdown.