Congratulations to SpaceX – again!

The Telegraph has just reported on the latest test of SpaceX‘s maneuverable Grasshopper rocket.

The aircraft flew 325 metres (1066 feet) into the air – higher than Manhattan’s Chrysler Building – before landing vertically back onto its launch pad.

It was the first time the Grasshopper had made full use of its navigation sensor suite, which is accurate enough to carry out vertical precision landing allowing the rocket to land back to Earth intact.

While most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere reentry, the 10-storey tall Grasshopper rocket is designed to withstand reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere and to land back vertically onto its launch pad.

There’s more at the link.  Here’s video of the trial, shot from an unmanned small helicopter hovering at the same altitude.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Congratulations to SpaceX on an achievement so far unmatched by anyone else.  Reminds me of old-time science fiction of the 1930’s, ’40’s and ’50’s, where such launch-and-land rockets were the staple of everyone’s imagination.  Could truth emulate fiction at last?



  1. Not the first, or the highest. In 1996, McDonald Douglass flew the DC-X at over 3,000 meters of altitude and then landed it vertically. McDD had been working on the concept since the 1960's, or at least releasing very intriguing artwork!

    Go here:

  2. This is happening ten miles from where I live. I wish they would publish the times of their tests – I would sure head out there and watch.

  3. Bart Noir, as I recall, NASA took the DC-X program away from SDIO and then let it die, presumably because it was competing with the more-politically-favored X-33/VentureStar (ultimately a very snazzy dead end).

    A Grasshopper derivative will probably end up being even cheaper to fly than a DC-X derivative would have been, since the Grasshopper flies on kero/LOX instead of LH2/LOX, and I believe the Delta Clipper would have carried a lot of extra structural and heat-shield mass to meet the military requirement for cross-range maneuvering during reentry.

    FWIW, I wonder where we'd be right now had NASA spent 1/10th the Shuttle budget developing and flying a Saturn V derivative that could land its first couple stages back at the launch site a la Grasshopper, instead of spending the half-trillion (?) it ultimately spent on the nifty-but-impractical Flying Ming Vase. It probably could have been done, even back then; command-guidance systems had gotten pretty impressive by the early 70s on the military side.

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