Vehicle Recovery System Flew To An Altitude Of Just Under 20 Feet, Hovered For A Brief Period
SpaceX’s Grasshopper – a 10-story vertical takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle -- rose nearly two stories off the ground in an 8-second duration test hop conducted on November 1. The rocket rose 17.7 feet, hovered, and touched back down safely on the pad at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
The Grasshopper program is a critical step toward achieving SpaceX’s goal of developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets. With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are testing the technology that would allow a launched rocket to land intact, rather than burning up upon reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.
Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.
The first test of the Grasshopper was conducted in September. The rocket is designed to be part of a larger spacecraft system that is completely reusable. The system would allow SpaceX to recover the Falcon 9 heavy launch vehicle after a flight with a soft landing on legs rather than falling into the ocean.
In that first test, the vehicle rose about six feet above the ground. SpaceX hopes to soon execute a hover test at approximately 100 feet of altitude.
SpaceX is conducting the tests in three phases, with the first being these low-altitude short-duration flights. According to a draft FAA Environmental Impact Assessment published in 2011, in Phase 2, there would be slightly less propellant loaded, a different thrust profile, and the maximum altitude would be increased to 670 feet, still below Class E Airspace. The mission duration during Phase 2 is again approximately 45 seconds.
The goal of Phase 3 is to verify the Grasshopper RLV’s ability to perform a VTVL mission at higher altitudes and higher ascent speeds and descent speeds. To achieve this, the maximum mission altitude would be increased from 670 feet incrementally up to 11,500 feet. The altitude test sequence likely would be 1,200 feet; 2,500 feet; 5,000 feet; 7,500 feet; and 11,500 feet. The maximum test duration would be approximately 160 seconds. The Grasshopper RLV would land back on the launch pad.
(Image provided by SpaceX)