The SpaceX Grasshopper, a new reusable rocket from the private spaceflight contractor, made its highest-ever launch last month, shooting up to an altitude of 1,066 feet before hovering briefly and then gracefully floating back down to its launchpad in McGregor, Texas.
In this video, recorded June 14 by an unmanned helicopter drone, the Grasshopper made its sixth flight ever, reaching a record high altitude before returning to Earth. Space.com reports that in previous “hops,” the Grasshopper has reached heights of 8.4 feet, 17.7 feet, 131 feet, 263 feet, and 820 feet.
A hovering 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 alongside the video. "The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal."
For its sixth flight, the Grasshopper employed a new navigation technique, designed to make the landing smoother and more efficient.
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"For the first time in this test, Grasshopper made use of its full navigation sensor suite with the F9-R closed loop control flight algorithms to accomplish a precision landing," SpaceX's statement continued. "Most rockets are equipped with sensors to determine position, but these sensors are generally not accurate enough to accomplish the type of precision landing necessary with Grasshopper."
Watch the video of the SpaceX Grasshopper’s test flight below.