The SpaceX Grasshopper is classified as an experimental reusable launch vehicle (RLV) that performs and lands vertically. Designed to test various technologies for SpaceX’s reusable rocket launching system, Grasshopper was officially announced in 2011, with a number of tests commencing the following year.
Last week, however, was Grasshopper v1.0’s swan song, as it soared to over 2,000 feet, a record height, before making a safe return to the arid Texas launch pad below.
The Vertical Takeoff, Vertical Landing Rocket
Normal rockets are designed as expendable assets that burn up within the atmosphere upon reentry. In contrast, the space transport corporation, SpaceX, has designed and constructed a suborbital space launch vehicle that is recyclable and can be rapidly deployed.
These rockets are being designed to withstand the grueling conditions of reentry, and make their descent back to the original launch pad. These recyclable rockets represent an important step forward in advancing space launch technology. Implementation of recyclable rockets, such as the Grasshopper prototypes, could significantly reduce launch costs and make space travel a far more affordable prospect. Much of the money that is exhausted during launch does not revolve around fuel costs, but in the utility of disposable launchers.
The version 1.0 Grasshopper comprises a Falcon 9 first stage tank and high-performance Merlin-1D engine, alongside a series of landing legs, which provides the structure’s support. This preliminary iteration of the Grasshopper rocket soared to an altitude of around 820 feet, during early phase testing, before making a safe return journey to its landing pad. In total, this early-phase model completed a total of eight successful test flights, before it made its final voyage last week.
According to SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, the inventor of PayPal, the Grasshopper rocket is capable of performing a successful landing, with the accuracy of a helicopter.
Grasshopper v1.0’s Swan Song
Grasshopper v1.0 made its final, and most impressive, launch on Oct. 7, 2013, achieving an altitude of over 2,000 feet (744 meters). After blasting off from the test facility in McGregor, Texas, the rocket was eventually able to make its return journey, completely intact.
The momentous occasion was filmed using a high resolution camera, affixed to a hexacopter device, as plumes of dust and debris billowed out from the sides of the launch pad.
Grasshopper v1.0’s final launch lasted for over 80 seconds, and reached double the altitude of its previous test. Version 1.0 will now be retired after its humble service, destined to be replaced by the new and improved Grasshopper version 1.1.
Grasshopper v1.1 is set to feature the Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage tank, which is over double the height of its v1.0 predecessor. It will also boast retractable landing legs, which are extended through use of high pressure helium. In contrast to v1.0, the next Grasshopper rocket is fitted with a total of nine Merlin 1D engines, as opposed to just one.
Last month, the vehicle successfully completed a staggering sideways “hop” of around 300 feet, after flying to an altitude of over 1,000 feet. During the test, for the first time ever, SpaceX’s Grasshopper made use of its suite of sensors; this provided ground control teams the opportunity to directly control the rocket, exploiting these new sensor readouts.
SpaceX has also formed a number of contracts with NASA, and has been tasked with restocking the International Space Station (ISS). So far, the company has launched Falcon 9 on three of these contracted missions, with further expeditions imminent.
The SpaceX Grasshopper v1.0’s ability to ascend to over 2,000 feet represents a considerable feat of ingenuity. We eagerly await the arrival of the illustrious company’s next Grasshopper reusable launch vehicle.
By: James Fenner