Grasshopper hops ever higher

SpaceX has been quietly working on Grasshopper, their reusable launch vehicle (RLV) technology demonstrator, as part of a long-term effort to develop a reusable version of their Falcon 9 rocket. Last week, some people noticed a new entry on the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s list of launches carried out under experimental permits: a flight by SpaceX’s Grasshopper vehicle on December 17 from its test site near McGregor, Texas. No other details about the flight were available.

Sunday night, SpaceX released a statement and videos of that third Grasshopper flight, the highest to date. According to SpaceX, Grasshopper—a Falcon 9 first stage with a single Merlin 1D engine and landing legs—flew to an altitude of 40 meters, landing successfully 29 seconds after liftoff. The previous two Grasshopper flights were much shorter and lower: its first flight flew 1.8 meters high and lasted just a few seconds, while its second, last month, flew to 5.4 meters.

The timing of the announcement was interesting: SpaceX posted the video Sunday evening, and a statement about the flight arrived in my inbox at 10 pm EST. SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk also publicized it in a series of tweets that evening, including one where he noted that the vehicle carried a “6 ft cowboy” (well, a mannequin of one) who had “no problemo” with the flight.

Grasshopper is part of a effort by the company to develop a reusable Falcon 9, and SpaceX said in a statement that “successively more sophisticated flights [are] expected over the next several months.” As for when that will lead to a reusable version of a Falcon 9, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell gave few clues when asked about it at a luncheon speech in Washington earlier this month. “I don’t want to guess when it’ll be ready for market, but there’s definitely no question that we want it to work,” she said.

8 comments to Grasshopper hops ever higher

  • DocM

    Outstanding!

    I like the little wind correction it did. Hopefully the envelope dxpansion to the FAA limits go smoothly. After that the real fun starts ;)

  • With reduced weight of the Merlin 1D engine while at increased
    efficiency, the Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage will have SSTO capability.
    Then ironically Elon is emulating the original purpose of the DC-X
    program in testing the Grasshopper VTVL stage, without realizing it.
    Bob Clark

    • Neil Shipley

      Grasshopper isn’t being designed as an ssto vehicle but as a reusable first stage testbed. Elon has specific goals in mind and ssto isn’t one of them. Reusable stages are. Blue Origin is the nearest current vehicle to DC-X and that’s only designed for sub-orbital at this point AFAIK.

    • PB

      I’m pretty sure nearly everyone at SpaceX is well aware that they are working towards the same goal as the SSX/DC-X programme, a fully reusable rocket. Certainly their plans do not include fully powered landing from orbit but their next capsule design will use rockets instead of parachutes for hard-field landing so they do aim for significant down mass capability. This is critical for Musk’s final goal of a Mars colony.

  • [...] 9. The vehicle is a Falcon 9 first stage with a single Merlin engine and fitted with landing legs. The vehicle last flew in December, flying to an altitude of 40 meters and staying airborne for 29 seconds. SpaceX previously flew [...]

  • [...] 9. The vehicle is a Falcon 9 first stage with a single Merlin engine and fitted with landing legs. The vehicle last flew in December, flying to an altitude of 40 meters and staying airborne for 29 seconds. SpaceX previously flew [...]

  • [...] released by SpaceX while Musk was speaking, and was airborne for 34 seconds. By comparison, on its previous flight, in mid-December, Grasshopper flew to 40 meters and was aloft for 29 seconds. The landing was “its most [...]

  • [...] (The video’s release is more evidence of the company’s often unconventional media strategy. The video was released three weeks after the test, on a Friday night of what, for many Americans, is part of a long holiday weekend because of the Independence Day holiday Thursday. Also, the video was announced on Twitter by Elon Musk Friday night, but not by SpaceX’s own Twitter account; nor was there a formal press release or other announcement by the company. Recall that, back in December, they announced another Grasshopper test late on a Sunday evening the day before Christmas Eve.) [...]

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