Sunday, October 13, 2013

SpaceX Grasshopper Rocket Makes a Half-Mile Hop

SpaceX Grasshopper Rocket Makes a Half-Mile Hop. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has released spectacular video of the latest test of its vertical take-off and vertical landing (VTVL) Grasshopper which reached 2,440 feet (744 m) altitude – the highest flight yet – on Oct 7. Like some of the latest ‘hops’ the Grasshopper was filmed from a single camera hexacopter which appears to have been hovering at around 2,000 feet. The video shows the Merlin 1D-powered Falcon 9 first stage tank passing by the hexacopter before getting much closer to the camera during the descent. The final phases of the flight also show significant amounts of flame burning alongside the vehicle and through the legs attached to the support structure, in addition to the normal exhaust plume from the vehicle’s single rocket engine.

As with previous tests the latest flight was conducted in McGregor, Texas. Up until now the demonstrator had flown to a height of 820 feet and included a lateral transfer of some 330 feet. In coming months SpaceX is expected to move onto tests of a larger version of the Grasshopper also dubbed by SpaceX founder Elon Musk as Falcon 9R (re-usable). Instead of a single Merlin 1D, the v1.1 successor will have nine -1Ds. Testing will be conducted at a specially constructed site at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The VTVL is designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact instead of burning up on atmospheric re-entry. The recent Falcon 9 v1.1 flight from Vandenberg AFB, Calif, also included a first attempt at slowing the first stage.

SpaceX’s Grasshopper is a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact. The largest rocket-powered VTVL ever flown, Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 first stage, a single Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

While most rockets are designed to burn up on reentry, SpaceX rockets are designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing. The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal. To date, a fully reusable vehicle has not been successfully developed.

Conducted at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, Grasshopper will undergo a series of test flights at progressively higher altitudes, topping out with a hover at 1,000 meters with engine shutdown and restart.

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