Outside of a science fiction movie, it’s a little strange to see a rocket fire up its engines, blast off, and then hover in the air.
But that’s exactly what Hawthorne rocket maker SpaceX pulled off with its 10-story Grasshopper test vehicle.
In a 29-second flight, the rocket burst into the sky, rose 131 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad using thrust vector and throttle control. To cushion its fall back to the launchpad, the Grasshopper has steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure. Video of the test was released late Sunday.
SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is trying to prove out the Grasshopper’s technology to develop what would be the first-ever fully reusable rocket — the Holy Grail in rocketry.
A reusable system could mean big savings in developing and operating the rocket. The closest example of a reusable launch system is the retired space shuttle fleet, which were only partially reused after a tedious months-long overhaul.
The latest Grasshopper flight marks a significant increase over the height and length of hover of Grasshopper’s previous test flights -- of 6 feet and 17.7 feet – which took place during the fall. This test was completed Dec. 17 at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
To provide a humorous perspective on the rocket's size, company placed a 6-foot dummy dressed as a cowboy on the outside of rocket. Here's a shot showing the dummy aloft with the rocket during the test.
In October, SpaceX successfully carried out a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. It was the first test of NASA's plan to outsource resupply missions to commercial companies now that the space shuttle fleet has been retired.