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Final flight of Grasshopper v1.0 sets new record


October 14, 2013

Final launch of SpaceX Grasshopper v1.0 test bed for reusable Falcon 9 first stage (Photo: SpaceX)

Final launch of SpaceX Grasshopper v1.0 test bed for reusable Falcon 9 first stage (Photo: SpaceX)

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SpaceX made another successful Grasshopper test flight last week, which was also the last flight for Grasshopper v1.0. Its swan song lasted 80 seconds, during which time Grasshopper reached an altitude of 744 meters (nearly half a mile), more than twice the previous record. Grasshopper v1.1 is well along the road to flight tests.

Following the successful test flight carried out on October 8, SpaceX's Grasshopper v1.0 is to be retired, and will be replaced by Grasshopper v1.1, which is also known as the Falcon 9 Reusable development vehicle. Grasshopper v1.1 will be based at New Mexico's Spaceport America following initial low-level testing in SpaceX's Texas flight test field.

Grasshopper v1.1 is being made from a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage tank, which at 68.4 meters (224 ft) in length is more than twice the height of v1.0. It will have a 2 metric ton set of retracting landing legs spanning about 18 meters (60 feet). The legs will be extended into landing position using high pressure helium.

The new version of Grasshopper will be powered by the same nine Merlin 1D rocket engines as are used in the Falcon 9, in contrast to v1.0, which contained only one Merlin 1D

. The huge thrust of a set of nine Merlin 1D engines will have to be delicately controlled to safely maneuver the Grasshopper at landing. Fortunately, the Grasshopper's (and eventually the Falcon 9 first stage's) weight is quite small when landing, so one need not be too concerned about the performance hit resulting from not using all the fuel during the boost phase of the flight.

SpaceX has built a 30x30 meter (100x100 ft) launch pad at Spaceport America about 7 km southwest of the main facilities, for which they will pay $6,600 per month to cover the lease and $25,000 per Grasshopper flight. The flight tests at Spaceport America in New Mexico will eventually reach supersonic speeds and altitudes up to about 55 miles (90 km). Musk has hinted that he expects tests to reach hypersonic velocities perhaps by the end of 2013, although this seems rather a large jump to make in the next two and a half months.

Development of the Grasshopper is not being undertaken simply to remind people of how spaceships are supposed to take off and land. SpaceX is banking on its ability to develop a reusable rocket launching system to carry payloads to and from orbit, as that ability should greatly reduce the incremental cost of multiple launches. This latest launch was captured by a camera on a hexacopter that appears to be hovering at an altitude of around 1,500 feet (450 meters).

Footage from the flight can be seen below.

Source: SpaceX

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

I don't see a problem with Grasshopper v1.1 reaching hypersonic velocities by the end of the year if she has already gone through static testing. It is just a matter launching a rocket.


These guys are amazing. In less than a year they have the single engine Grasshopper1.0 going from a 40 meter hop to 744 meters with a very accurate landing. If this is indeed the same chassis then it also demonstrated reusability of the system. I can not wait to see the progress they make with 1.1. It sounds like the 1.1 will be very much closer to an actual Falcon 9 so will provide a more realistic picture of whet landing a first stage will be like and how reusable these first stages can be.



Benjamin Felts

Go back and review MacD's DCX flights at White Sands in the early 90s. They had very good control also w/ planned lateral excursions, etc. Very impressive, but gravity always wins hence wings & runways.


I love it when someone decides to do something and schools all the 'experts' on how it's done.

Fact is we could have done this decades ago but no one wanted to rock the gravy train of far, far more expensive rockets. That train is now about to retire!!

Remember this 1 man has done better than all but 2 countries!! And shortly will leave them in the dust too. Shows what can be done if you get rid of all the needless costs and go KIS.


However, there's no way he could be where he is at without the structural design parameters and rocket research already developed by NASA.

Bob Tackett

It's absolutely fantastic to see science, motovation, money and most importantly persistence in action! Perhaps I'm missing something in the article here but I'm presuming the intent is for the entire vehicle to reach a specific orbit, deliver its payload and return to a predetermined landing site(s). At what point on reentry does it assume landing attitude and altitude? Are small chutes in the works or used to aid in slowing and directing its descent until the reentry rockets kick in? It's not like backing down the family boat at your local boat ramp! Keep up the great work!!


Obama new what he was doing when he privatized space.


@frogola you lost all credibility when you said "Obama knew what he was doing when he privatized space". One Space is not his or any governments to give. Two Obama's stepping aside so that others will fail or succeed on their own merits is Not a triumph as it leaves him the opportunity if failure happens to say "This is why you need government to handle this!' and if it succeeds to Assume credit where none is due.

Joseph Mertens

They did something like this on the Apollo 11 mission back in 1969.


@Joseph Mertens Please get your facts straight.

I think what frogola was referring to was the Obama administration decision to scrap the Constellation program due to the inadequacy of foreseeable funding in favor of a less ambitious program that included provisions for the increased privatization of launches and missions. This approach was greeted by criticism from various quarters such as a portion of the vested space community, including some veteran astronauts, who were concerned we were wimping out of the effort to send humans to Mars by 2030. The other nay sayers consisted of the usual Obama haters from the right. Ironically, that is the faction who disdain anything the federal government does, and were complaining that too much space work was to be done by the private sector. Go figure. Rather than "stepping aside," as you state, the Obama administration is funding the efforts of the private companies to such an extent that some in the industry have suggested that little has really changed compared to the earlier scheme when NASA was directing the efforts of all of their private contractors such as Grumman, et al. Human space efforts continue. Time will tell if the Obama administration has made the right choices. Space X, Orbital Sciences and others seem to be on a roll with their recent successes. I remain bullish and can't wait for the new developments as we start the new year.

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