Remember SpaceX? They're the company that launched unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station and promised they could sell us tickets to Mars in a decade or so. It's a lofty goal, but a big part of their strategy is cutting cost by building reusable rockets, and it seems they're making progress.
The first stage of the company's experimental rocket, known as the Grasshopper, completed its third successful test flight last week, rising more than 130 feet in a 29-second flight before landing softly on four steel legs. It was the highest flight the rocket's had thus far, coming after a 6-foot flight in September and a nearly 18-foot flight in November. It's a long way from exiting our atmosphere, but it's certainly a start.
If the Grasshopper proves successful in its ultimate mission, it will be the first-ever reusable rocket to leave Earth orbit (the space shuttle was reusable, but the rocket components it used during launch weren't). The final rocket, when ready for leaving Earth, will include a second stage rocket and a capsule, all of which will be equipped with their own landing gear and parachutes to slow their descent. Rather than splashing down in water, all of the rocket's components would come down softly on dry land, making them much easier to reuse for future flights.
The idea, which will hopefully help SpaceX fulfill that promise to fly people to Mars, is to develop a space launch system that's fully reusable, and thus much cheaper than rebuilding rocket components over and over again for each and every flight. Over the next few months the company plans to take the Grasshopper even higher, testing its landing capabilities as much as possible before a full-scale space flight. Will they make it? We hope so, because as the video below shows, this thing sure is cool.
(Via Huffington Post)