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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.

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.

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."

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.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:27 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Man the lifeboats! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:00:35 PM PST

    •  ? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, miss SPED

      Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

      by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:13:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe I'm a bit pessimistic (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        palantir

        but I don't think the human race is going to do the abrupt turnaround necessary to reverse climate change and build down to a sustainable level. And when the temp rises enough, (3-4 degrees C should do it) high order life, basically anything that doesn't flow with the oceans's currents is probably toast.
        So if human life is going to continue, it will have to be looking for another bluegreen planet to pillage.
        Lifeboats.
        Not to be a downer, much, just thinking.

        If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

        by CwV on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:19:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You can rest easy on one point. (8+ / 0-)

          A temperature increase of 3-4 C wouldn't be enough to kill off "high order life" - it would just lead to economic and political disruption that could produce a Dark Age.  During the Jurassic period in Earth's history, the global climate was basically tropical worldwide - crocodiles swam above what is now the Arctic Circle, and atmospheric CO2 concentrations were 1,950 ppm.  That was about 3 C above where we are now.

          But just in general, what's the point of pessimism?  Scientific, technological, and social progress all require optimism - they require people to be energized about the future they can create, and believe in their own power to make things change for the better.  Fatalism is fatal to progress.  

          Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

          by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:33:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  The sheer biomass required to maintain a (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Neon Vincent, Troubadour, eyesoars

          breeding population anywhere but on Earth makes permanently leaving highly improbable. And that's before addressing the tech and radiation questions.

          We need to branch out, but our species leaving the natal biosphere permanently is not something to count on in the next couple of centuries.

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
          ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

          by FarWestGirl on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:49:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not really. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            miss SPED

            You need a population of about 8,000 humans to be genetically viable.  Not that much biomass is needed to sustain such a population, and you don't actually have to bring that much with you - just enough to grow more when you get to your destination until you have enough to be sustainable.  And you don't have to be sustainable right away anyway - just steadily reduce your dependence on imports until you reach the critical biomass.

            Under current launch costs, yes, it would be prohibitive to send that many humans and associated material, systems, etc. anywhere else in the solar system.  But it's doable with a factor of 10 cost reduction, and very doable with a factor of 100 reduction - practical enough for a middle-class person to sell their house and pay for a one-way ticket to Mars.  That's an emigrant population in the millions, not thousands.

            Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

            by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 07:08:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  We evolved in a complex biosystem with myriad (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Troubadour

              other organisms in dynamic equilibrium. And we have not yet evaluated the necessity of many of the components, ie which organisms have what degree of symbiotic necessity for us over multiple generations. It's one of the things that Biosphere II would have been very useful for.

               Yes, you can do hydroponics for a while, with adults, working or in transit, but there's a reason why organic food is more nutritious and in a closed system supporting complex breeding populations you have to factor in things like trace elements and bioavailability of nutrients through virtually endless cycles and with attendant losses in each iteration, (no such thing as perpetual motion). Soil bacteria and fungi break down many compounds into bioavailable nutrients for both plants and animals, (N2 & Fe are convenient examples). For multi-generational breeding we just don't know how many different species of organisms we really need to replicate a balanced ecosystem and the sheer mass of component biomass to build and maintain a sustainable environment supporting even 5-8,000 colonists is beyond anything we've even begun to contemplate. I believe that we will need something like worldships to truly leave for good, but in-system colonies with Earth still available are entirely possible.

              Whatever environment we breed in will affect our evolution, and that of whatever we take with us. Subtracting enormous numbers of different inputs and influences from our environment will have effects greater than our wisdom teeth and appendix.

              We don't even know what we don't know yet. We haven't the foundation of knowledge to even begin asking the right questions, much less finding the answers.

              Just spitballin'. ;-)

              Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
              ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

              by FarWestGirl on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 02:31:01 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The only way to find these things out (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                FarWestGirl

                is to do them.  People already on Mars working for their immediate survival will be more motivated and focused than people for whom these are just abstract questions that can be pursued at leisure.  Biosphere II failed because it was articulated as a controlled experiment rather than a running operation to learn how to do things - i.e., practical engineering took a back seat to raw science.  It will be very different with actual space settlements.  People will learn how to survive without necessarily having a perfect knowledge of how everything works together.

                Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

                by Troubadour on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 07:13:11 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Agreed. And also one of the reasons that I wonder (0+ / 0-)

                  if we have enough time to learn everything that we'd need to know to leave for good.

                   By the time you're decades into the experiment and ten generations on, if you missed something important, the whole population is screwed because of something that their g-g-g-g-g-g-greats didn't realize they needed or thought the could do without. Life is such a crapshoot. :-)

                  Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
                  ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

                  by FarWestGirl on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 07:40:34 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  But that's not really how it works. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    FarWestGirl

                    If something fundamental were missing, it wouldn't take generations to find out - there wouldn't be generations.  And if you're just missing some chemical or other that can't be practically synthesized, you can just import it until you can synthesize it or find a viable substitute.

                    Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

                    by Troubadour on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 09:24:43 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  This is the kind of stuff (8+ / 0-)

    that despite all the other stupidity and just plain meanness going on right now, gives me faith in humanity.  Well done gentlemen and don't slow down!  The Vulcans are waiting just beyond the moon:)

    "Life is too short for front-wheel drive." -Sabine Schmidt

    by nhox42 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:05:49 PM PST

    •  SpaceX and Tesla Motors are the best things (6+ / 0-)

      happening in the world today by a wide margin.  As soon as Elon Musk has more than a few seconds of free time, I think he should open a technology business school to teach people how to do what he does.  It's painfully precarious for so much of the world's progress to depend on the genius and boundless energy of one man.

      Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

      by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:17:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My Dad Was a NASA Manned Space Engineer Back (9+ / 0-)

    when so many of our vehicles --which were our nuclear so-called deterrent-- were tipping over and going boom.

    I imagine the biggest improvement since then has to be sensors and computing power, so that instabilities can be picked up and corrected long before things go south.

    Damned Youtube since they disabled continued loading when you hit pause, so you can't have a smooth view without a really high speed connection.

    That's an awesome demonstration. The only vehicles I've seen do this are the LEM and the personal jet pack. Very impressive to see a rocket this large do it.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:12:59 PM PST

    •  Definitely the electronics/software. (4+ / 0-)

      That's been the main area of advancement in human technology overall since Apollo, and part of what makes SpaceX so effective relative to its competitors is that it thoroughly applies those changes to rocketry.  

      It can do that because the Falcon rocket family (of which Grasshopper is a member, since it's a single-engine version of an F9 first stage) is totally new compared to everything else on the market, built from the ground up to incorporate modern principles.  Most other rockets in use today are incremental evolutions of systems going all the way back to the beginning of spaceflight, and the handful of "newer" ones are 15-30 years old and so expensive no one but the government can afford them.

      I think it might actually be easier for a larger rocket to deal with the forces involved in a hover because it has such a large moment of inertia that any given torque changes the angle more slowly.

      Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

      by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:59:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wow! That is really neat. DH's buddy's son (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miss SPED, Troubadour, FarWestGirl, KenBee

    got a job at spacex in southern ca. I can't wait to get a tour.

    if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

    by mrsgoo on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:42:08 PM PST

  •  I admit to being biased (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, FarWestGirl, Paulie200

    My son works for space x.
    On launch days, we follow on the space x site, on NASA tv, on Facebook and twitter, and back and forth texts.
    When all goes well we are elated. When there are glitches, we are on pins and needles.
    So I totally sympathize with Gooserock's dad's experience, though space x launches are so far unmanned. It's a lot of risk and a lot of money for science to reach to the stars.

  •  When I was a kid (6+ / 0-)

    I watched all the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches, thinking that by the time I was a young adult rockets like this would be commonplace. We're 30 years behind schedule, and I am happy to see people implementing technology like this. Maybe this can be a seed of what we can achieve, in all areas, if we can bring our best processes and wisdom forward into the world.

    "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

    by US Blues on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:09:21 PM PST

    •  The delay is because those early years (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      miss SPED, FarWestGirl

      were so focused on finding ways to go into space at all, they couldn't spend much time or money on figuring out how to do it properly.  And it took thirty years to realize we were going about it all wrong.

      Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

      by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:31:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The space x teams are young. (4+ / 0-)

        And workaholic :)
        When I saw candid photos of the rocket, and mission control teams at work, it reminded me of early palo alto.

        •  During Dragon mission coverage (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          miss SPED, FarWestGirl, eyesoars

          the age juxtaposition between the SpaceX team and the NASA mission control team is always striking.  One looks like a bunch of grad students, the other like tenured faculty.  And every other aerospace company team looks like NASA's.  

          SpaceX owns the future.  Some of those young employees are going to found their own space companies with what they learn there, and at least a few might achieve similarly radical results.  That company is like a world-changer academy - Palo Alto is exactly the right analogy.  

          Another analogy would be the armies of Alexander, which given how rapidly SpaceX is sweeping away the old launch industry, might not be that far-fetched a comparison.

          Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

          by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:55:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Remember 1st 2 Flew On Weapons, and to Some (5+ / 0-)

      extent the manned program was troubleshooting some initially unreliable vehicles. You may remember Glenn's 1st US orbital flight, 1st on an Atlas, didn't launch till about the 11th try.

      Also of course that program made money for the established military contractors.

      The Cold War ran on till the end of the 80's so for those years the notion of equating space with government made a lot of sense to most people; and we had the heavily compromised Shuttle that had to satisfy the military and cope with under-funding and such.

      So in practical political terms we probably weren't able to even consider opening up the private sector before about 1990, and because the Shuttle was still working NASA with such limits to its funding had to stick with it till the 2000's when another disaster spelled the end for it.

      We wouldn't have had the first space program at all without the Cold War, especially the Moon race. If you watch the cable space race history series of programs, everything was severely bleeding edge technology at that time. So if the Cold War kept our efforts from advancing, well when we live by the sword we die by it too.

      It would be interesting to speculate where space flight and exploitation would've been absent a Cold War. There was the X-15 rocket plane thread, and of course we had Von Braun and his V2 team that fled to the US troops in the last days of the world war before anybody knew of a Cold War. He certainly wanted to go to the Moon.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:53:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  While there is speculation (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        miss SPED, eyesoars, Paulie200

        that the absence of a Space Race would have allowed a more organic, private-sector evolution similar to air travel, I don't think that would have happened.  An emphasis on the X-15 might have produced faster, higher-altitude commercial aircraft than we have today, but the aviation industry was not capable of organically evolving spaceflight.  

        The leap in energies and hazards going from air to spaceflight (let alone orbit) would have simply been too great, too expensive, with not much economic justification.  And even if they were willing to invest such money on something no one really believed to be practical, they couldn't have afforded to absorb the cost of inevitable disasters.  So with no Space Race, there would simply be no spaceflight other than suborbital sounding rockets and perhaps stratospheric aircraft.  And with that, there would never have been even unmanned missions anywhere in the solar system.

        We needed the Space Race to sink the up-front costs, risks, and inspire a generation of engineers, and then we needed that generation to become disillusioned with the ossified infrastructure of that race in order to make an engineering diaspora into the private sector to pursue scale, efficiency, and affordability.  The second part only took this long because there was a temporary diversion of talent to Silicon Valley.

        Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:41:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's what happens when... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, Bronx59

      Republican Science keeps you in Low-Earth Orbit for 30 years...

      "Do you realize the responsibility I carry?
      I'm the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House."
      ~John F. Kennedy~

      -7.5,-5.8

      by Oldestsonofasailor on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:49:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is one thing we can't blame on Republicans. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Oldestsonofasailor, eyesoars

        Or ourselves.  It was just an inherent failing of the way our space infrastructure was organized due to the geopolitical factors that created it.  We built it to get there as quickly as possible with money being no object, and thereby created an institution and an industry skilled at doing that.  

        Once Apollo was terminated, suddenly we had that institution and industry trying to work in a context where everything was reversed from how it started - tight budgets, no ambitions, and timetables for returning to actual exploration (by humans) extended out indefinitely.  It was completely foreign to them, and neither the public or private side of the space program was organized to deal effectively with those conditions.  

        So it shouldn't have been surprising when the mandate to create an affordable launch system in the Shuttle ended up instead making it the most expensive rocket ever flown.

        Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 07:21:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  As a kid who gew up on Air Force bases... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    (and was at NASA/Langley AFB in VA at the peak of the Apollo program)  I remember laughing at Sci Fi movies and cartoons that had rockets launching and landing like that.

    My friends and I, because our parents were flight engineers and rocket scientists and pilots... and we were all up to speed on the hows and whys of rocketry and capsules and research into lifting bodies (as a kid would understand them) that such a landing system was so unlikely as to be laughable.

    Times have changed ;).

  •  Is that the man-in-black (aka Johnny Cash) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    himself taking a ride on that puppy?  

    Had to look at it a few times to make certain, that may be some serious bit of technology or plumbing down near the blue engine structure, but it certainly has a black cowboy hat on!

  •  *That* was a hard landing? (0+ / 0-)

    Looks to me like you could deliver a tray of martinis on that vehicle without spilling a drop.

    What's the point of this project? Reusable first stage? Reusable strap-on boosters?

    Have you noticed?
    Politicians who promise LESS government
    only deliver BAD government.

    by jjohnjj on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 09:21:39 PM PDT

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