SpaceX Grasshopper Takes a Leap Into a ‘Ring of Fire’

Last week, SpaceX’s Grasshopper took its highest leap ever, doubling its past flights. On March 7, 2013, the vertical and takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle, rose 24 stories or 80.1 meters (262.8 feet), hovered for approximately 34 seconds and then landed safely – and more accurately than ever before. The goal of Grasshopper is to eventually create a reusable first stage for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which would be able to land safely instead of falling back into the ocean and not being usable again.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed this video this weekend during the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, calling the Grasshopper’s flight a “Johnny Cash Hover Slam,” since the video includes Cash’s iconic song, “Ring of Fire.” A cowboy dummy was strapped to the side of the rocket for good measure (and perhaps good luck, since the previous test fight included the cowboy).

The test was completed at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.

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.

12 Replies to “SpaceX Grasshopper Takes a Leap Into a ‘Ring of Fire’”

  1. Seems like a waste of fuel, and a silly and precarious way to land a first stage for reuse. Why not a parachute? Or after it detaches from the 2nd stage have it sprout wings and glide in horizontally? (or a combination of both chute and glide?)

    1. Hi Kevin. The ultimate aim includes recovering the 2nd stage as well. So going down the wings path also means adding a pair of wings to the 2nd stage, plus thermal protection tiles to stop the wings burning off, a tail, hydraulics, power sources, under carriages etc. for each stage. The weight penalty gets ugly compared to a simple minimal fuel reserve and free fall to Earth before dialling up 100% thrust just prior to landing.

  2. Is anyone else hearing the rumor that the first flight of the F9 1.1 will have landing legs fitted to the 1st stage, will also fire a de-orbit burn (after separation) for safe re-entry into the atmosphere and will attempt a simulated practice landing over the ocean?

    Things are really moving along if it’s true.

  3. This dramatic progress by SpaceX operating on a shoestring makes it even more criminal that Nasa is wasting $60+ billion of earmarked pork on the unneeded, unaffordable, unsustainable $2 billion+ per launch SLS/Orion.. follow-on to the failed/cancelled Nasa Constellation….. when SpaceX already has vastly superior/advanced/efficient boosters/capsules flying..

  4. I wonder if Elon’s plan is to launch from Texas so the 1st stage can land in Florida then have the 2nd stage land in Texas or Florida after a full or partial orbit. I wonder where the 1st stage would land if they are going to initially launch from Florida..

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