For those readers who haven’t been following its progress, SpaceX’s Grasshopper is a prototype reusable launch vehicle that’s designed to perform a vertical landing back on Earth after delivering its payload into space. While it’s already managed a few low-altitude test hops, yesterday (Aug. 13) it reached a new milestone by performing a “lateral divert test.”
In its previous test flights, the Grasshopper has lifted off vertically from a launch pad, travelled straight up (to a maximum height of 250 m/820 ft), then used its Merlin-1D engine to ease itself back down to the pad. In an actual mission, however, it wouldn’t simply be traveling straight up and down – when it came time to land, a considerable amount of lateral steering would be necessary to line it back up with the launch site. That’s where yesterday’s flight comes in.
The Grasshopper once again reached its previously-achieved altitude of 250 meters, but also proceeded to move an additional 100 m (328 ft) to one side. It was subsequently still able to land safely back at the center of the launch pad, compensating for its lateral diversion. According to SpaceX, “The test demonstrated the vehicle's ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.”
The test flight can be seen in the video below.