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SpaceX tests its vertical takeoff and vertical landing rocket

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Mar 18, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—SpaceX's reusable rocket called Grasshopper, which is a test bed for vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) technology, reached new heights during a test flight on March 7.

The rocket doubled its highest leap to date reaching a height of 80.1 metres (262.8 feet), hovering for about 34 seconds before landing safely.

SpaceX reported that its landing was the most precise to date with the vehicle touching down in the centre of its launch pad.

SpaceX is developing the technology to enable rockets to return to their launch pads, thereby avoiding the need for to retrieve rocket parts from the ocean. Such technology would lower launch costs and make rockets fully reusable. SpaceX hopes to install the VTVL technology in the next generation of its Falcon rockets. 

This was the fourth test flight of Grasshopper. The test vehicle had its first flight on September 21, 2012 when it launched about 8 feet and landed on its legs during the brief flight. The second test took place last November when it flew to 17.7 feet (5.4 metres) and hovered briefly before landing as planned. On its third test flight, which took place on December 17, 2012, the experimental vehicle flew for 29 seconds and reached a height of 131 feet (40 metres), hovered and then returned to the ground, landing on its legs as designed.

SpaceX Grasshopper on the launch pad at the company

Grasshopper on the launch pad at SpaceX's test facility in Texas. Credit: SpaceX

All the tests have taken place at the company's development facility in McGregor, Texas.

The Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 first stage, a Merlin-1D engine, four steel and aluminimum landing legs with hydraulic dampers and a steel support structure.

As with the previous test, Grasshopper launched with a dummy -  a 6 feet tall cowboy strapped near the base. The cowboy shows the size of the test vehicle which is about 110 feet tall. 

A statement issued by SpaceX explained "Grasshopper, SpaceX’s vertical and takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle, continues SpaceX’s work toward one of its key goals – developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets, a feat that will transform space exploration by radically reducing its cost. With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are testing the technology that would enable a launched rocket to land intact, rather than burning up upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere."

Grasshopper 24-Story Hover Slam 3/7/13 | Multi-Angle from SpaceX on Vimeo.

Reusability is seen as a key development for future spaceflight to keep launch costs low and to enable more frequent missions.