In a key test flight, rocket maker SpaceX blasted its new reusable 10-story Grasshopper rocket more than 820 feet and steered it around as if it were a remote controlled plane.
SpaceX, the Hawthorne company that builds rockets and space capsules to resupply the International Space Station for NASA, is aiming to develop a rocket that can return to a launchpad for a vertical landing, instead of burning up upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Tuesday test was a big step toward achieving that goal. Grasshopper is taller than a 10-story building, so the control problem is challenging.
In a statement, SpaceX said demonstrating the steering maneuverability is “an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.”
In the test, which was about a minute long at the company’s facilities in McGregor, Texas, The rocket fires up its engines, blasts off, and then hovers in the air – swaying from side to side.
For months, the company has been completing a series of successful, low-altitude tests of the test vehicle in Texas with plans to move testing to a commercial spaceport New Mexico at a later date.
Each time they go a little higher with the 10-story Grasshopper rocket, and it’s impressive footage.
During the last flight on June 16, the rocket blasted off, rose 1,066 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad. At that height, the rocket flew higher than the U.S. Bank Tower, tallest building in Los Angeles.
For SpaceX, the Grasshopper represents a reusable launch system – the holy grail in rocketry.
A reusable system could mean big savings in developing and operating rockets. The closest example of a reusable launch system is the retired space shuttle fleet, spacecraft that were only partially reused after a tedious months-long overhaul.
Founded in 2002, SpaceX makes its cargo capsules and rockets at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that was once used to assemble fuselage sections for Boeing 747s.
The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has successfully carried out two cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA. It is the only commercial company to do so.
It was founded by Los Angeles billionaire Elon Musk, who earlier this week laid out plans for his Hyperloop transportation system to much fanfare. The design aims to take travelers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 35 minutes.
Video of the test can be seen above.