SpaceX’s reusable Grasshopper spacecraft has managed to hop more than 24 stories into the air, hover and then land safely.
The 263-foot jump, at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas, was double the craft's previous record. It hovered for around 34 seconds before landing, using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control.
Grasshopper touched down, says the team, with the greatest precision yet, dead center on the launch pad. At touchdown, the thrust to weight ratio of the vehicle was greater than one, proving a key landing algorithm for the Falcon 9 craft that SpaceX is using for International Space Station supply missions.
"Grasshopper, SpaceX’s vertical and takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle, continues SpaceX’s work toward one of its key goals – developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets, a feat that will transform space exploration by radically reducing its cost," says the company.
"With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are testing the technology that would enable a launched rocket to land intact, rather than burning up upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere."
Grasshopper stands 10 stories tall and consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers and a steel support structure.
This is Grasshopper’s fourth test flight, each managing double the altitude of the last.