Straight up: SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket gains height and precision (w/ Video)

Jul 08, 2013 by Nancy Owano weblog
Grasshopper vehicle on 12 September 2012. Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Wikipedia.

(Phys.org) —California-based spacecraft company SpaceX has released a video of the June 14 test of its Grasshopper rocket. The company said it soared over 1,000 feet during its latest trial run in June and it made a remarkably precise landing. In detail, the rocket flew 325 m, or 1066 feet, after liftoff in McGregor Texas, a rocket development facility. This breaks its previous record height of 840 feet.

The test also drew praise for precision in landing. The precision is attributed to new navigation sensors that measure distance between the ground and the vessel. "Most rockets are equipped with sensors to determine position, but these sensors are generally not accurate enough to accomplish the type of precision landing necessary with Grasshopper," according to the statement released with the video.

The Grasshopper is a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle, which SpaceX was directly controlling based on the sensor readings. "Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket parts and a Merlin engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure," according to the video statement.

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The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. Test facilities are in Texas.

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philw1776
2 / 5 (11) Jul 08, 2013
As God and Robert Heinlein intended.
Major step forward from the excellent DC-X precursor as this is a full scale production rocket vehicle test bed for recovery and re-use. Falcon 9 flights will gradually incorporate aspects of this technology once flight proven. Bigger challenges to come will be re-ignition at 1st stage separation altitude and velocity.
grondilu
not rated yet Jul 08, 2013
How exactly is this thing supposed to control its attitude during reentry?
hemitite
1 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2013
I wonder what the flight profile of this sort of landing would be? I could it avoid the excitement of the usual reentry phase, or would it take too much fuel to kill that much velocity?
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (13) Jul 08, 2013
It's nothing special, Russian rockets jump higher and they're freely maneuverable...
baudrunner
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 08, 2013
So this is what rockets that are returning from their missions supposed to be doing some day? Is SpaceX going to send a rocket with surplus fuel up there to perform extra-planetary missions, then use that surplus fuel to touch down for a picture perfect precision landing like the one in the video? Or will it have a refueling station up there for the purpose of providing the fuel needed to do the landing? So many questions...
tigger
5 / 5 (2) Jul 08, 2013
Fantastic achievement by Space X. Watching this while thinking about how hard it is to balance a pencil on a fingertip is breathtaking. Even understanding the basic physics of rocket gimbaling I find this breathtaking... probably more so.
Gmr
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 09, 2013
Eh. They just ran the film backwards. Seen it before in 1950's science fiction.

;)
bipolarbear
5 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2013
So this is what rockets that are returning from their missions supposed to be doing some day? Is SpaceX going to send a rocket with surplus fuel up there to perform extra-planetary missions, then use that surplus fuel to touch down for a picture perfect precision landing like the one in the video? Or will it have a refueling station up there for the purpose of providing the fuel needed to do the landing? So many questions...

The Grasshopper is a testing ground for a tech setting path to a reusable first and second stages if the rocket. Their rockets are going to carry surplus fuel. Elon stated that the cost difference in this extra fuel is tiny, but the advantages in recovering first and second stages are huge. The rest of your comment is out of context though.
Sherrin
1 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2013
Thank you bipolarbear. The article failed to explain what the purpose of this rocket might be. I couldn't work out why anyone would want a rocket that goes up a bit then goes back to where it came from! You have explained this fundamental point.
Gmr
1 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2013
There was an old single stage to orbit proposal - the "Delta Clipper" if I recall correctly - that also was vertical landing after reentry. Maybe they'll eventually go the same route.
antialias_physorg
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2013
So this is what rockets that are returning from their missions supposed to be doing some day?

The grasshopper system is suborbital (i.e. it is for landing stages of the rocket itself to be reused). It's not for going oribital and back.
http://en.wikiped...ocket%29

Though I'm not sure whether they will use braking parachutes during the initial descent or try to use thrusters all the way. A combined parachute/thruster system seems more weight efficient at first glance.
ScottyB
not rated yet Jul 09, 2013
What an amazing video, if you think about how big this thing is and to see it go up and come down with so much ease.. amazing!

Great work Elon and team!
Requiem
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 09, 2013
For those wondering above, the grasshopper is a flight testing and demonstration vehicle for the technology. They will be rolling out another, larger grasshopper soon, and the point of these vehicles is to transition the technology to the full-scale Falcon 9 and Heavy. Starting sometime in 2013 or 2014 all commercial Falcon 9 launches will begin including the technology and making use of it over the oceans, until they feel confident enough to start bringing them back for a pad landing.
Requiem
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 09, 2013
By the way, this should have the ULA shaking in their boots. When this technology becomes mature, SpaceX will be able to launch hundreds or thousands of missions for the same price as a single ULA mission, and their monopolistic pork-barrel days of screwing the American taxpayer over will come to a very sudden and unremarkable end.
Neinsense99
1 / 5 (5) Jul 14, 2013
The control systems for this Grasshopper have no time for flashbacks to scenes at the Shaolin temple. (Older readers might get the reference, younger not so much).
baudrunner
1 / 5 (5) Jul 19, 2013
The rest of your comment is out of context though.
I don't see how, bipolarbear.

I think that the grasshopper is merely a demonstration of just how good the gyrostabilization systems are getting. The problem with it is that to carry more fuel for the purpose of this descent method, more fuel will be needed for the extra weight of the fuel, requiring more fuel, and so on. Elon's calculations must be wrong, or an awful lot of payload capacity will need to be sacrificed for that purpose, making the heavy lifter pointless and unreasonably expensive.
philw1776
1 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2013
So what if half (not that bad, but makes brief analysis easier) payload to LEO is sacrificed? If the rocket can be used just 10x then overall it has launched 5 throw away rocket's launches at 1/5th the cost. Fuel cost per LEO rocket launch is ~ 3%, neglected here. I love someone who has run zero #s stating that Elon's calculations must be wrong.

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