SpaceX Grasshopper Half Mile Test Launch
October 14, 2013

SpaceX Grasshopper Rocket Reaches New Heights In Half-Mile Test

[ Watch the Video: Grasshopper’s Half-Mile Test Flight ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

SpaceX's Grasshopper vehicle keeps making leaps and bounds, with its latest test taking it nearly a half-mile into the sky. The Grasshopper is a modified Falcon 9 rocket designed to both take off and land vertically. SpaceX has been testing out its new launch vehicle one step at a time by slowly launching it higher and higher to see whether it can maintain stability as it gets farther from Earth.

In the latest test on October 7, Grasshopper lifted up to over 2,400 feet, and steadily brought itself back to the launch pad to the exact same spot that it launched from.

[ Watch the Video: Grasshopper Makes Biggest Leap Yet ]

The 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) rocket is designed to test out the technologies needed to return a rocket to Earth intact. Most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere reentry, but SpaceX is using Grasshopper to design a rocket that can not only withstand reentry, but also return to the launch pad for a vertical landing.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers and a steel support structure. SpaceX says Grasshopper represents strides it's making toward one of the company's key goals, which is to develop fully and rapidly reusable rockets to help radically reduce the cost of sending a spacecraft into orbit.

In the past year, the Grasshopper vehicle has leapt from just 8.2 feet in September 2012, to 131 feet in December. The latest test flight is the highest that Grasshopper has ever attempted. However, the real challenges for this vehicle will be when SpaceX  decides to take the VTVL rocket to the regions of the atmosphere where spacecraft and meteors burn up during re-entry.

SpaceX launched its new Falcon 9 rocket at the end of September this year, showing for the first time this vehicle's ability to return to Earth all in one piece. The Falcon 9 rocket used three engine stages to help boost satellites into the target orbit, and a fourth engine to control its landing into the Pacific Ocean.

The test wasn't a complete success because the Falcon 9 hit the water much harder than the company anticipated, but Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, said the engine's strange behavior was understood by engineers and they believe they can make the proper adjustments to correct it.