Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, an investor in SpaceX, was recently at the company’s Texas test facility and got a look at Grasshopper (above), SpaceX’s reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator. About a year ago SpaceX revealed its plans to develop a reusable version of the Falcon 9 rocket, including a first stage that would fly back to the launch pad. Grasshopper is the company’s first major step in demonstrating that ability to fly back and land vertically.
At the AIAA Space 2012 conference in Pasadena, California, on Tuesday, SpaceX’s Brian Bjelde said that Grasshopper will fly for the first time in the near future, having already completed a static test. “As of last week, we did a static fire of the engine on the Grasshopper,” he said. “Very soon we’re going to be a couple of little mini hops. Then we’ll do hops up to 1,000 feet, some hovers, maybe even higher.” The higher flights are pending approval of the FAA, which has given clearance for the initial, lower-altitude tests, he said.