SpaceX's Grasshopper Still Making Big Leaps
March 11, 2013

SpaceX’s Grasshopper Still Making Big Leaps

[ Watch the Video: Grasshopper Reaching New Heights ]

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

SpaceX, one of the best-known commercial space companies in the industry, is continuing to make strides with its new vertical space vehicle, Grasshopper.

The company's Grasshopper spacecraft is a vertical takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle meant to be reused so it can help dramatically reduce cost. Engineers have been testing the launch vehicle by performing "leaps," which is when they allow the future spacecraft to hover either tethered or untethered.

In the latest test, the Grasshopper reached a new milestone by making its highest leap to date, rising 24 stories, or 268 feet in the air, and hovering for about 34 seconds, then landing safely. SpaceX said not only did the Grasshopper reach new heights, but it also touched down with its most accurate precision, so far, on the centermost part of the launch pad.

The latest flight was Grasshopper's fourth in a series of test flights, each of which will be demonstrating exponential increases in altitude. The spacecraft flew 8.2 feet last September, then a couple months later made it to 17.7 feet. In December, Grasshopper jumped up to 131 feet.

The 10-story-tall launch vehicle consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and steel support structure.

SpaceX℠s founder and CEO, Elon Musk, said developing Grasshopper is crucial to bringing down the cost of space transportation and increasing the efficiency of spaceflight. Musk showed off a video of the experimental Grasshopper booster during a keynote speech at the annual South by Southwest interactive event in Austin, Texas. He said this reusable rocket technology could make space travel 100-times less expensive because the cost of things like fuel and oxygen make up just one percent of the launch's overall cost.

The company's Dragon spacecraft is currently docked with the International Space Station on its second resupply missions to the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX signed a contract with NASA for twelve resupply missions for the ISS. Dragon faced its first complication after launch March 1, delaying the start, but not ending, its rendezvous mission with the space station.

“Spaceflight will never be risk-free, but it´s a critical achievement that we once again have a U.S. capability to transport science to and from the International Space Station,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA´s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “The science delivered and to be returned from the space station has the promise of giving us a unique insight into problems that we face on Earth.”

Companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic aim to not only advance space exploration, but also to eventually make space tourism a feasible dream for Americans.