One Big Hop for SpaceX


On Monday, upstart space launch company SpaceXannounced the results of a test flight of its new "Grasshopper" experimental lift vehicle.

In a 29-second test flight conducted in McGregor, Texas, on Dec. 17, the Grasshopper rose 131 feet into the air, said the company. After briefly hovering at that height, Grasshopper successfully conducted a controlled landing back on its launch pad "using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control." In other words, it retraced its steps -- after going up, it came right back down to where it started from.

This month's test builds on two previous test flights of the Grasshopper, a 10-story-tall launch vehicle consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket's first stage, a Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure. In September, Grasshopper's first flight took it up all of 6 feet. In November, the vessel rose 18 feet into the air, hovered, and then descended.

Privately held SpaceX, the space exploration company built by PayPal founder and Tesla Chairman Elon Musk, says it will continue conducting more and more sophisticated test flights of Grasshopper over the coming months, with the ultimate goal of developing a fully reusable launch rocket that can carry a payload into space, then return to Earth for more.


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