One giant leap for commercial space flight: SpaceX test launches reusable rocket

Damien Gayle – Daily Mail Dec 24, 2012

SpaceX’s prototype Grasshopper reusable rocket took a giant leap for commercial space flight last week when it rose 131ft and landed safely back on Earth.

The latest launch by the private space travel company, which has already run resupply missions to the International Space Station, is a major step in their ambition to produce a reusable space vehicle.

In its previous two flights the Grasshopper has managed to hover at six feet and 17ft before settling back down.

California-based SpaceX documented last week’s successful test launch at their test pad in McGregor, Texas, in a YouTube video published last night.

It was accompanied by a series of humorous tweets from the pioneering company’s eccentric billionaire founder Elon Musk.

‘To provide a little perspective on the size of Grasshopper, we added a 6ft cowboy to the rocket,’ he wrote.

Powered by a Falcon 9 rocket and Merlin 1D engine, the 10-storey-tall Grasshopper rocket is designed to take off and land vertically – part of SpaceX’s plant to develop a rocket that can return to a launch pad for rapid reuse.

It has four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers and a steel support structure to keep it intact when it settles back down to terra firma.

Vertical-takeoff space vehicles developed thus far rely on disposable lower stages, which adds millions of dollars to the cost of launching spacecraft into orbit.

A new generation of reusable rockets that can launch, fly and land would dramatically slash the cost of travelling into space.

In the 29-second test flight conducted December 17, the Grasshopper rocket rose to a height of 131ft – around ten storeys – and hovered before landing safely on its launch pad using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control.

Mr Musk declared the launch a success, writing on Twitter: ‘No problemo.’

As well as the Grasshopper project, SpaceX has already achieved the accolade of becoming the first private company to launch a successful mission to the International Space Station.

It’s first launch of its unmanned Dragon capsule was in May, with a follow up mission to the ISS completed successfully in October.

But Mr Musk’s even more ambitious long-term goal is to establish a colony on Mars, and he has said that reusable rockets like the Grasshopper are ‘the pivotal step’ in achieving that.

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