Sen—SpaceX's Grasshopper, a prototype vehicle developed to test vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) technology that would enable rockets to return to their launch pads, had its first test flight 'hop' on Friday 21 September.
The Grasshopper launched about 6 feet and landed on its steel legs during the brief flight at the company's McGregor test facility in Texas.
SpaceX are planning to build a fully reusable launch service and the Grasshopper is being used to develop the technology that the pioneering space company hopes to use on future rocket launches.
The Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 first stage, a Merlin-1D engine, four steel landing legs and a steel support structure.
The next milestone for the Grasshopper is to hover at about 100 feet and then return to its launch pad. According to SpaceX, this goal could be achieved within a few months.
SpaceX Grasshopper first test flight hop. Credit: SpaceX
Reusability is seen as a key development for future spaceflight to keep launch costs low and to enable more regular missions. In addition to experimenting with the VTVL technology that would allow rockets to return to their launch pads, SpaceX is also working on propulsive landing technology for its Dragon spacecraft. Its SuperDraco engines that are currently in development would be fitted to future Dragons to enable them to land on planetary bodies and, on return to Earth, land on the surface rather than the present system of dropping into the ocean.
Meanwhile the company is getting ready for the first of twelve resupply missions to the International Space Station under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. The company's Falcon 9 rocket is due to launch Dragon on its way to the orbiting laboratory on October 7. Dragon will be unmanned and loaded with food and other supplies.