SpaceX yesterday launched its 10-story-tall Grasshopper reusable test rocket to a height of 80.1 meters (262.8 feet) - twice the height of the previous test launch - hovered for more than half a minute, and then deliberately landed hard in order to test the rocket under harsh forces. SpaceX is referring to this kind of test as a "hover-slam." I definitely recommend - nay, demand - that you go Full screen and max HD on this:
Personally the song I would have used is Song 2 by Blur (also known as "woo-hoo" for obvious reasons), but you can't go wrong with Johnny Cash.
I am no rocket engineer, and even I know this technical achievement had to have been unbelievably hard. That thing is gigantic: It's basically like lifting a high-rise apartment building hundreds of feet into the air, hovering it, and then deliberately slamming it on the ground to test its robustness without anything breaking or exploding. And this is just one incremental step on an evolutionary program designed to go higher, faster, and eventually revolutionize spaceflight. The last Grasshopper flight was a mere two months ago, so the test launches are proceeding apace. This is what's possible with a reusable rocket - even a bleeding-edge test article. SpaceX's statement about the test:
SpaceX’s Grasshopper doubled its highest leap to date to rise 24 stories or 80.1 meters (262.8 feet) today, hovering for approximately 34 seconds and landing safely using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control. Grasshopper touched down with its most accurate precision thus far on the centermost part of the launch pad. At touchdown, the thrust to weight ratio of the vehicle was greater than one, proving a key landing algorithm for Falcon 9. Today’s test was completed at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.The ultimate goal of the Grasshopper program is to enable reusable 1st stages on the Falcon 9 rocket that will reignite after stage separation and fly themselves back to the launch pad just like we saw Grasshopper do (only from much higher altitude, and with a much softer landing). Combined with an eventual 2nd stage reusable program, this would enable radical cost reductions in spaceflight - a factor of anywhere from 10 to 100, according to previous statements by SpaceX CEO, CTO, owner, and founder Elon Musk. SpaceX has already reduced launch costs by a factor of 2-3 with their innovative technology and operations practices, but that kind of cost reduction would effectively open space to mankind. Or at least Low Earth Orbit, but as a saying among space geeks goes, "LEO is halfway to anywhere."
Grasshopper, SpaceX’s vertical and takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle, continues SpaceX’s work toward one of its key goals – developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets, a feat that will transform space exploration by radically reducing its cost. 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.
This is Grasshopper’s fourth in a series of test flights, with each test demonstrating exponential increases in altitude. Last September, Grasshopper flew to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet), in November, it flew to 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) and in December, it flew to 40 meters (131 feet).
Grasshopper stands 10 stories tall and consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.
Meanwhile, Dragon is at the ISS and its cargo has been unpacked. Station astronauts are now in the process of loading it up with the "down-mass" cargo that it will safely (knock on wood) return to Earth, including a number of experiments as well as equipment. Dragon, as you may recall if you followed the launch, had suffered from a glitch that prevented its thrusters from firing after being delivered into orbit, but the SpaceX team was able to fix the problem within hours and continue the mission. They are building up quite a reputation for making "unkillable" rockets and spacecraft (knock on wood again), and this latest test will surely add to that.
7:31 PM PT: Elon Musk said at SXSW that Grasshopper will be going hypersonic before the end of this year.
7:38 PM PT: Obviously if/when it does go hypersonic, there would be some sort of aeroshell on the top - not the blunt end seen in the current video.