There’s something eerily mysterious about a rocket that lands itself just the same way it takes off.
In video just released over the weekend, SpaceX’s Grasshopper reusable rocket flew to new heights — over 1,000 feet — with a brand-new sensor suite that gave it greater accuracy and better control. The most interesting part is the landing, of course:
Grasshopper’s previous flight in March rose only to a height of 262 feet before returning to its launching pad in a short hop of 30 seconds. This flight, in addition to being three times longer, went almost four times higher.
The reusable Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) rocket is what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sees as the future of spaceflight — and humanity.
“Reusable rockets are vastly important if you think it’s important that humanity span beyond earth and become a multi-planetary species,” Musk said at SXSW. “If you can imagine watching Star Trek, and if they built a new star ship after every trip? It’s pretty silly. And all the other transports we use — planes, trains, cars, bikes — are all reusable. But not rockets.”
The key difference was the better sensor suite, SpaceX said.
“For the first time in this test, Grasshopper made use of its full navigation sensor suite with the F9-R closed loop control flight algorithms to accomplish a precision landing,” the company said in the video’s published notes. “Most rockets are equipped with sensors to determine position, but these sensors are generally not accurate enough to accomplish the type of precision landing necessary with Grasshopper.”
Interestingly, it appears from the video title that SpaceX made its video with the aide of a cheap Hexacopter drone. At $1,000 or so, it’s much cheaper than a helicopter — and there are no safety issues if the rocket malfunctions.