SpaceX Grasshopper Sideways: Rocket Makes Successful Maneuver

Friday, 16 Aug 2013 02:55 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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SpaceX had another success Wednesday with its rocket Grasshopper when the space craft made a sideways turn, proving that Grasshopper is easily maneuverable.

Taking off from McGregor, Texas, the Grasshopper launched to an altitude of 820 feet, went into a hover mode, moved 328 feet sideways, and then returned back to the center of its launch pad, all in just over a minute, according to CBS News.

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"The test demonstrated the vehicle's ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights," SpaceX said in a statement. "Grasshopper is taller than a 10-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 re-entering from space at hypersonic velocity."

The Grasshopper rocket, officially known as the Falcon 9 test rig, is a prototype for SpaceX's new launch system built around reusable rockets. If reusable rockets became widely adopted, they would make space travel cheaper and more efficient, CEO and founder Elon Musk said.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion NASA contract to make 12 unmanned deliveries to the International Space Station.

The Telegraph's science correspondent Richard Gray said in the past most rockets were designed to burn up in the atmosphere after use, but the sky-high cost of space flight has made engineers rethink that strategy.

"SpaceX ... is attempting to develop reusable space rockets that can take off and land vertically with the accuracy of a helicopter," Gray said. "Initially it hopes the technology can be used to launch satellites into orbit, but it could also be used for missions to explore and return from other planets."

The test showed that the Grasshopper navigation sensors and thrusters will allow for the type of soft landings that can make return flights possible, Gray said.

SpaceX is also developing a newer version of the rocket that will have fold up landing legs.

SpaceX, based out of Hawthorne, Calif., has designed, manufactured and launched advanced rockets and spacecraft since 2002.

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