The SpaceX Grasshopper, a new reusable rocket from the private spaceflight contractor, has set another milestone after launching vertically and then flying sideways for several hundred feet.
In the video released Thursday, the Grasshopper takes off vertically, reaching a height of 820 feet before hovering in the air and laterally shifting 330 feet. After it had successfully completed the maneuver, the Grasshopper safely returned to its landing platform. SpaceX, owned by billionare “hyperloop” pioneer Elon Musk, says that accomplishing such a maneuver is a big step forward in creating a truly reusable rocket.
"The test demonstrated the vehicle's ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights. Grasshopper is taller than a ten story building, which makes the control problem particularly challenging. Diverts like this are 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," SpaceX explained in a description alongside the video.
Such a maneuverable rocket is a unique idea, one that SpaceX hopes will be immensely useful -- and profitable -- for space agencies across the globe. SpaceX’s ultimate goal with the Grasshopper program is to create a rocket capable of vertically landing back on its launchpad after exiting and re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. The vast majority of rockets are simply discarded by spacecraft and left to burn up on re-entry. With a truly reusable rocket like the Grasshopper, SpaceX believes that space agencies would be able to save much time and money.
"While most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere re-entry, SpaceX rockets are being designed not only to withstand re-entry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing," SpaceX wrote in a statement back in July. "The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal."
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Watch the SpaceX Grasshopper's sideways flight below.