28th December 2012
SpaceX's "Grasshopper" performs successful test launch
A new rocket with full and rapid reusability has been tested at SpaceX's development facility in Texas.
In the future, fully reusable rockets could drastically cut the cost of space travel. The Grasshopper is a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) experimental prototype being tested by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), in order to assist development of the company's Falcon 9 rocket. In two previous flights, the Grasshopper managed to hover around six feet and 17ft above the ground before settling back down. It has now improved upon this considerably, as seen in the video above. The Grasshopper rose 131ft (40m), or about 12 storeys, hovering and landing safely on the pad using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control. Testing will continue with more sophisticated flights expected in 2013.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, with the goal of revolutionising access to space. The company has gained much attention in recent years – designing, manufacturing and launching some of the world's most advanced rockets and spacecraft. It is the only private commercial firm ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it achieved in December 2010. SpaceX made history again in May 2012 as the first private company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, carried aboard the Dragon vessel which was also returned safely to Earth.
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for at least 11 more cargo supply missions to the ISS. There are plans to carry astronauts in the near future as well. Also under development is the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket since the Apollo-era Saturn V, scheduled for its first test launch in 2013. Musk hopes to eventually offer human flights to Mars for just $500,000 a person, recently stating his intention to build an 80,000-person colony on the Red Planet.