Damien Gayle – Daily Mail Dec 24, 2012
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.