Here’s one giant leap for rocket science: SpaceX, the commercial spaceflight company led by Elon Musk, this week published a video of the latest successful test flight of its reusable rocket concept, called “Grasshopper,” which blasted up to a record 12 stories high (about 130 feet) before landing vertically under its own power back on the launch pad.
The new record-high flight, which took place at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, comes a month after the SpaceX Grasshopper rocket reached a then-record height of just 2 stories (17.7 feet) before successfully returning to a vertical landing from the launch pad. Prior to that, SpaceX first tested the rocket with a tiny 6 foot-high test hop.
The Grasshopper rocket itself is huge at 10 stories high, as SpaceX previously revealed. But the new test-hop saw the rocket eclipse even its own height by 2 stories.
A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed to TPM that the company achieved all of its goals for the latest test of Grasshopper, but declined to specify when the company would conduct further test flights or how high these would go, stating “we do not release our test schedule in advance.”
If you look closely, you’ll also see a 6-foot tall cowboy doll SpaceX attached to the base of the rocket, just above the exhaust ports, which SpaceX founder Musk tweeted was added for scale:
The latest feat of the rapidly reusable rocket prototype is an important one for SpaceX, as the company is attempting to develop a quick, fully reusable rocket capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL).
Such a capability would dramatically reduce the cost of space travel. Musk has previously stated his ambitions to drive that cost down from “60 million dollars per flight to 60,000 dollars a flight.”
Currently, most returning spacecraft — including SpaceX’s own Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 booster rockets — must be retrieved from the ocean or remote landing sites and extensively rehabilitated before reuse, if they can be reused at all. The Dragon capsule and Falcon rockets made history twice earlier in 2012 by becoming the first ever privately-owned craft to dock with and perform a cargo transfer mission to the International Space Station, respectively.
The Grasshopper itself is made up of one SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket body and a Merlin engine, combined into a new structure with four aluminum legs that allow the Grasshopper to land vertically.
Musk and SpaceX’s goal is to develop a rocketry system that is not only reusable, but that possesses reusability that is “both rapid and complete — like an aircraft or a car, or a horse, or a bicycle,” as Musk told an audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London in November.
SpaceX in late 2011 filed paperwork with the Federal Aviation Administration for three-years worth of Grasshopper test flights up to 11,500 feet, still considered suborbital.