The concept of commercial spaceflight has been growing considerably in recent years. Basically, the idea is that it would be private aerospace companies that would responsible for ferrying people to and from space and putting commercial satellites in orbit, thus leaving space agencies free to conduct more crucial research and deep space exploration missions.
Intrinsic to this dream is the creation of a cheaper, reusable rocket system, something that can be deployed, landed, and redeployed. This will not only save the companies responsible for this new age of space travel billions of dollars, it will make a whole series of projects possible – like Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) arrays, commercial trips to the Moon, and bigger, more elaborate space stations in orbit.
And that’s precisely what SpaceX founder Elon Musk is working on with his “Grasshopper” rocket system. Designed to be reusable, the company has been running the Grasshopper through an ongoing series of tests to make sure it can take off, achieve orbit, and then successfully return to the Earth and land in one piece. In the latest test, the Grasshopper achieved its highest flight yet – reaching 80 meters (263 feet) – before sticking its landing.
The flight took place on March 7th, and it was the fourth of its kind to be conducted at the SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. And though the flight was unmanned, the crews placed a dummy dressed like Johnny Cash into the side, which might explain why the footage of the test featured the song “Ring of Fire” in the background.
While this achievement might seem modest to some, its necessary to keep in mind that this is a very new concept. In addition, with each successive flight, the altitudes achieved have increased exponentially. In its first test flight in September of last year, the Grasshopper reached a height of only 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). In the two following tests in November and December, the rocket reached a height of 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) and 40 meters (131 feet) respectively.
With this latest flight, SpaceX believes it is getting close to their goal of a reusable rocket and its ultimate goal of making space travel cheaper and easier. Upon completion of this latest test, the company had positive things to say about the new rocket system:
With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are testing the technology that would enable a launched rocket to land intact, rather than burning up upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere.
Who knows? Given a few more tests, they might just be able to break atmo and land successfully. Then, all SpaceX has to do is sit back and watch their stock price jump by about a million points. At which time, I’m thinking missions will pour in for the deployment of just about any bit of space gear imaginable! Welcome to the era of renewed space exploration, my friends!
And be sure to check out this video of the Grasshopper makings its most recent jump!