On March 7 the SpaceX Grasshopper, a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle currently in development at the company’s McGregor, Texas, facility, completed a nearly 263-foot leap and hovered at that altitude for about 34 seconds before landing at the center of its launch pad. In addition to landing on its target, SpaceX said the Grasshopper’s thrust-to-weight ratio was greater than one as it returned to earth, a key developmental achievement for the vessel.
SpaceX is using the Grasshopper to develop reusable rocket technology in hopes of reducing the cost of space exploration by being able to quickly and fully reuse the launch vehicle rather than having it expire as it reenters the atmosphere. This most recent test flight was the Grasshopper’s fourth, and it doubled the altitude from the last test flight, which was completed in December. And it’s a giant improvement over the Grasshopper’s first flight when it completed a short hover at 6 feet in September.
The 10-story-tall Grasshopper is made up of a Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, a steel support structure and a Falcon 9 rocket first-stage tank. The Falcon 9 rocket recently completed its fifth successful mission, launching the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station with more than 2,300 pounds of cargo. Dragon is scheduled to return to earth later this month with about 3,000 pounds of research material, education experiments and space station hardware, SpaceX said.