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A Brief History of Grasshopper, SpaceX’s Reusable Self-Landing Rocket

SpaceX’s recoverable rocket booster, known as Grasshopper, recently launched itself over 2,000 feet in the air and expertly landed itself—a new record for the private space firm. Here’s a brief recap of the programs progress in the past year.

Oct 24, 2013

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Just over a year ago, Space X began testing Grasshopper: A first stage booster rocket designed to land itself. Elon Musk’s private space firm calls it a Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle, and they view it as an essential technology to reducing the cost of space travel. 

Normally, rockets are launched, they deliver their payload into orbit—more often than not a satellite; sometimes humans—and they fall back down, never to be used again. At SpaceX, a single Falcon 9—their workhorse rocket which delivered their Dragon Capsule to the ISS—costs $53 million. With a VTVL system in place, the only major cost of a launch would be the fuel; only a cool $200,000 per mission.

This past month, SpaceX successfully completed its latest test mission: a record-high 2441 foot burn into the sky and a pinpoint landing back on the launch pad in McGregor, Texas.

Here’s a quick look back at Grasshopper’s progress over the past year.

Six Feet: September 21, 2012

A short test hop confirmed that the four steel legs, hydraulic dampers, and support structure could withstand stresses associated with landing.

130 Feet: December 17, 2012

The 10-story test vehicle rose to double its height in the air, hovered briefly, then placed itself back on the landing pad.

262 Feet: March 10, 2013

In addition to doubling the previous test record, Grasshopper hovered for approximately 34 seconds at max altitude, then landed back on the deck with unprecedented accuracy.

820 Feet: April 19, 2013

Just over a month later, Grasshopper triples it’s highest leap.

1066 Feet: June 14, 2013

Grasshopper flies a bit higher on this test run, however a new sensor suite enables even more precision landings.

820 Feet with a 328 ft Lateral Movement: August 14, 2013

No new height records set this time, however Grasshopper performed a 328 foot lateral diversion—demonstrating the 10 story-tall vehicle is capable of handling aggressive turning maneuvers in search of the landing pad.

2441 Feet: October 7, 2013

The latest test propelled Grasshopper to an all-time high.

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Steve Rousseau