Bad Astronomy

Precision Jump for the Grasshopper

SpaceX Grasshopper rocket
Flight of the Grasshopper.

Photo by SpaceX, from the video

SpaceX is a privately owned company making a lot of headway into making travel into space easier, cheaper, and, honestly, cooler. They have two flights to the space station under their belts, and have very ambitious plans for the future.

They’re testing a very old idea with a new type of rocket: a Vertical Takeoff/Vertical Landing (VTVL) prototype they’ve nicknamed Grasshopper. It’s already undergone a series of test flights, and the latest, done on June 14, 2013, reached a height of 325 meters—over a thousand feet.


SpaceX just posted a video of the flight taken from a remotely-controlled hexacopter. It will help to set the video to high-definition, make it full screen, and to turn your volume up for the full effect:

Mind you, this is an uncrewed rocket! It uses a guidance system that can change the pointing of the engine and the amount of thrust to keep the flight steady and true. This test flight had even more sensors than previous tests, so there was more control and accuracy in the landing.


The idea here is that instead of dumping boosters into the ocean or letting them burn up on re-entry, this technology can allow a precision vertical landing back at the launch site. The booster can then be refurbished and reused.

I’ll be very interested to see if this tech will pay off; it’s a difficult engineering problem but could prove to be very beneficial in the exploration of space.

…and another part of me just wants to see this work because I was raised on Chesley Bonestell paintings of tapered silver rockets reflecting the Sun as they sat vertically on alien worlds. To me, that is the very icon of imagination, and of the human exploration of space.