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The Grasshopper Project is a Falcon first stage with a landing gear that's capable of taking off and landing vertically

SpaceX is undoubtedly the rockstar of U.S. space travel, and now, the company is taking its commitment to innovation to a whole new level.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is currently testing what is called the Grasshopper Project, which is a major breakthrough in rocket reusability.

The Grasshopper Project is a Falcon first stage with a landing gear that's capable of taking off and landing vertically. It does this by shooting into orbit, turning around, restarting the engine, heading back to the launch site, changing its direction and deploying the landing gear. The end result is a vertical landing.

Check out this video of the Grasshopper Project in action:


After NASA retired its space shuttle fleet (Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis shuttles) throughout 2011, SpaceX stepped in as the first private company to ship supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX flew its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS for the first time back in May for a test supply run. After that successful trip, SpaceX and NASA signed a $1.6 billion contract that allows SpaceX to complete 12 supply trips to the ISS and back.

On October 7, SpaceX made its first official supply run as part of that contract. It arrived October 10. The mission was a success.

Dragon is due to make its second run in January 2013. SpaceX is also looking to send the first manned Dragon capsule to the ISS somewhere between 2015 and 2017.

Source: Business Insider



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By 91TTZ on 12/26/2012 10:34:12 AM , Rating: 1
Disposable staged rockets exist for a reason- they address the fundamental physics of putting something into orbit.

In order to put x amount of mass into orbit you'll need y amount of propellant. On a staged rocket with disposable stages, the propellant in those stages is used exclusively to accelerate the remaining rocket stack. As each stage burns out, it detaches and the rocket stack gets lighter, meaning the next stage can be smaller to propel the payload. If you want to bring the stages back you'll need to add additional weight, complexity, and propellant to enable them to return to Earth in one piece.

Now here's the funny part: rockets are mostly made of aluminum, so the effort to reuse the rockets is mainly so you don't scrap the aluminum spacecraft with each launch. Large rockets usually have solid rocket boosters, and the fuel in a solid rocket engine is also aluminum, oxidized by ammonium percholorate. The need for extra thrust will necessitate the burning of more aluminum than you'll save by reusing the burned out stages.

If you wanted to make it a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) reusable rocket the problem becomes even worse since you need to provide enough propellant to accelerate the entire rocket into orbit and then enough propellant to bring it back. This will probably exceed the cost of just throwing away the rocket.

I think this particular design just reuses the first stage, but it's still a losing proposition. Yes, you can build a reusable rocket. And no, by reusing it you won't save any money. Once the excitement of the technical achievements wears off the reality of economics will set in. They will eventually cancel this project once they realize that it won't save them money.

If anything, maybe they can just jettison the engine and have it splash down into the ocean slowed by a parachute.




By andyFUN on 12/26/2012 11:46:44 AM , Rating: 2
You're thinking too small. Mars? Maybe?
There's an old adage. Whether you think you can do something, or you can't.... You're right.

Creative people have been fighting this very battle for thousands of years. Some rational person always says its impossible, but it isn't. Improbable? Yes, but not impossible. Human history is filled with improbable leaps in technology. If there's anyone that can find a way to make reusable engines economical, then someone with a direct investment in the profitability of the project would be the most qualified.

My vote is let them try and encourage them, because if it fails, well, it ain't our tax dollars that they burned.

Cheers,


By 91TTZ on 12/26/2012 1:50:10 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Creative people have been fighting this very battle for thousands of years. Some rational person always says its impossible, but it isn't. Improbable? Yes, but not impossible. Human history is filled with improbable leaps in technology.


I disagree with this viewpoint. You're thinking about it backwards. These things are not invented by chance or by dreamers. They're invented by scientific types who understand the underlying principles. It's not the rational person who is saying it's impossible; it's the irrational person who simply doesn't understand the subject material.

When I read about Goddard's experiments with rockets it quickly became apparent to him which forces were at work. Most non-scientific people did not understand the forces at work. When he claimed that a rocket could fly in outer space he wasn't making a bold statement, he was simply stating a fact about the forces of rocket propulsion, namely that rockets move by accelerating a mass of gases out of the nozzle. Most laymen thought that rockets worked by forcing out thrust that pushed against the air in the atmosphere, and in outer space there would be no air to push against. Therefore, Goddard received some public criticism about his claims that rockets could travel in space. But those weren't remarks by rational thinkers, they were remarks by clueless non-scientific people.

In this case, the science behind staged rockets is well understood. Rockets are routinely launched into space on disposable staged rockets and some of them are fairly cheap. For instance, we'd loft things up on the Space Shuttle and it would cost almost a billion dollars while the Russians could loft the same object up for a fraction of the cost on a disposable rocket.


By fragemall on 12/28/2012 11:55:41 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with your viewpoint. That being Said I urge everyone to view this BBC documentary and in case you are interested, read further about the physics...
BBC Documentary - The Three rocketeers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ_a21fPkYM
Only then will u understand how rudimentary a rocket actually is. And how archaic this technology is. And how this can never bring down the cost of taking cargo to orbit. You will also stop exalting Mr. Elon Musk who rather than a dreamer is a very good business man. He can make money out of selling to the people and government a proven but archaic technology.....

What do I Know... All the ignorant people (who do not know better) and the government (who will not fund space research) will make Mr Musk a billionaire...Maybe that's capitalism...


By Joolio12 on 12/26/2012 12:28:48 PM , Rating: 2
If there was an economic way to re-fuel from Low Earth Orbit, this kind of landing system might be quite reasonable. I understand that it makes little economic sense to send fuel from Earth to LEO so I am looking further in the future where raw materials, or fuel itself, could be moved into LEO via low delta-v scenarios. It's all in the economics.


By andyFUN on 12/26/2012 12:49:35 PM , Rating: 2
or transport fuel from a location...say, with 1/6 Earths gravity?

Cheers,


By Joolio12 on 12/26/2012 2:00:30 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, mass drivers from the Moon would work nicely. I'm not sure if there are sufficient raw materials on the Moon to produce decent rocket fuel but there is Hydrogen and Oxygen from the recently discovered water ice. Carbon could be driven to LEO from the martian moons or maybe the asteroid belt. It's fun to speculate about some future triangle trade between Earth, Moon, and Mars.


By Samus on 12/26/2012 3:19:07 PM , Rating: 2
For light loads (like astronauts or a satellite) this will be revolutionarily inexpensive.


By geddarkstorm on 12/26/2012 12:54:21 PM , Rating: 2
SpaceX tells us the opposite, that making their rocket reusable will greatly decrease the costs per lb to put something into orbit (slash the cost in about half). You can see why, since the cost of a rocket isn't really in its fuel, its in the engine. Saving those engines is a huge economical boon.

The fact SpaceX is tackling this so well so far is incredible, and shows their creative genius. The project could still fail, but I'm glad someone is trying to take on and solve this issue.


By maugrimtr on 1/2/2013 10:26:39 AM , Rating: 2
The guy above saying this can't be economical is speaking out of his ass. There is a significant barrier to escaping the old guard method of disposable rockets - getting the used up rocket to softly land intact. Splashing into the sea with a parachute? Saltwater is corrosive and it would ruin the engine component. Parachuting to land? It will never fly again after hitting that!

Space X have finally arrived at a tentatively working system to vertically land at least one rocket stage. That makes it easy to retrieve, easy to transport and reduces the likelihood of damage. But they went one better - returning a rocket from orbit for reuse (not just from an atmospheric jettison). Of course, they might really be after the expensively complex but intact reusable engine rather than the whole fuselage (which could conceivable just be recycled and replaced).

It's also pretty bad to point at the Shuttle as an example of reuse. The shuttle was a hideously complicated and expensive craft that never met its objective of being cheap and simple. Consider a capsule paired with reusable Space X rockets - that's far better!


By danjw1 on 12/26/2012 12:59:15 PM , Rating: 2
Fact 1, SpaceX has brought down the cost of getting stuff to orbit.

Fact 2, SpaceX wants to reuse rockets.

Fact 3, SpaceX has said that #2 is harder then they thought.

Fact 4, SpaceX is still trying to make #2 work.

Fact 5, SpaceX has already done stuff that others said wasn't possible.

Fact 6, the OP probably hasn't ever developed rocket system in his life.


By 91TTZ on 12/26/2012 1:52:06 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Fact 6, the OP probably hasn't ever developed rocket system in his life.


Wrong. I built a rocket system, a space station, and have a fully functional base on Mars.

Of COURSE I haven't developed a rocket system. I'm just a random poster on Dailytech.


By mjv.theory on 12/26/2012 1:15:31 PM , Rating: 5
SpaceX does not use solid fuel boosters, it uses LOX/RP1 (i.e. kerosene) liquid fuel engines. The Falcon 9 costs $50,000,000 and the fuel costs $200,000. So the economic case to reuse the rocket is a saving per flight of $49,800,000 minus ground operations.
SpaceX are attempting to improve the Falcon 9 to the point where it can disposably get 4% take-off mass to orbit. Then they can add whatever extra structure and shielding is necessary and there is also an amount of fuel required for return and landing to achieve full re-usability. The hope is to be able to still get 2% take-off mass to orbit.

The fundamental physics is not the issue, it is about materials, design and engine efficiency, in short, the problem is technological. However, the potential economic savings are considerable.

(Also, the cost of the aluminium for the tank structure is only one factor. Fabricating 10 engines and avionics is also a costly and time consuming business.)


By TSS on 12/26/2012 7:52:33 PM , Rating: 2
I think this project is for more then just that. I mean if the aim was just a reusable rocket, why don't they have them dump in the sea like the solid rocket boosters of the shuttle? Why go through the trouble of making it land vertically?

which by the way wouldn't be usable in this scenario because of their solid fuel component and the biggest drawback to using solid over liquid fuel: Once you switch it on, you cannot turn it off until all the fuel has been burned.

I think it's more for planetary missions then putting things into orbit. No sense carrying fuel to orbit to land the rocket later, just more weight you have to send up in the first place.

But if you could launch a rocket to the moon that could land would mean you could seriously think about sending more goods there for possible longer stays. I mean on the cheap without having to build a whole atlas system for it. Make it a bit bigger, stick an ion engine or another tech for long space travel on it then use the rocket engine only for landing and taking off, and i'd see mars even being possible to ship stuff to.

Not saying they're going to colonize anything in the short term. But it's good to R&D for the long term, especially since it takes so long to develop. It is, after all, rocket science :p


By mjv.theory on 12/27/2012 6:53:12 AM , Rating: 2
You make a good point, especially in light of Musk's Martian colonisation plans. However, I believe that cost saving is still by far the primary motivation. In order to colonise Mars (or anywhere else) it will require a large amount of transportation. To fly to Mars, land and keep the vehicle there would simply be too expensive.

So, yes, you are correct, in that vertical landing is a goal in itself, but the cost saving of re-usability is a much more significant advantage. With re-usable vehicles, the cost of putting 10 tonnes into orbit reduces to less than $1,000,000 and perhaps even half that. Even if you're launching 200 tonnes to Mars on a "Falcon XX"; to use the vehicle only once would be prohibitively expensive in attempting to set up a substantial Martian colony.

Re-usability is the key to a space-faring future and a vertical landing is a nice side benefit. If Falcon 9 costs $50,000,000 and if you can fly 50 times at $1,000,000 operating costs per flight, then it has cost you $100,000,000 in total, where the cost of 50 disposable vehicles would be $2,500,000,000; a handy saving of 2.4 billion dollars. If you want to colonise Mars, it's not just the technology that has to improve, it also needs an improvement in cost efficiency.


By NellyFromMA on 12/26/2012 1:21:01 PM , Rating: 3
Why would a commercial industry endevour to solve a problem that you so easily conclude is in vain? Idk, seeing as how SpaceX has had major successes recently in the field, I think I'll give them the benfit of the doubt. It's only in their best interests to solve this issue.

I applaud them for taking up the big challenges. All worthy points you've noted, I just think deeming it a lost cause is akin to not making the next big breakthrough. Maybe you're right, but it seems logical for them to try to achieve this. They seem well on their way.


By 91TTZ on 12/26/2012 4:37:21 PM , Rating: 2
I also applaud them for trying, especially since the R&D is on their dime not mine. It would be great if they can pull it off.


By CharonPDX on 12/26/2012 11:56:40 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not an accountant or economist, so I don't know the actual fiscal feasibility, but...

SpaceX claims that by making the entire stack reusable, they will save a LOT of money. I don't know if it will end up being true or not - look at how expensive the Space Shuttle ended up being - but they must have internal calculations that show it to be profitable.

I'm going to throw out completely out-of-my-ass numbers as a guess as to their reasoning:

One throwaway rocket launch, not counting fuel: $80 Million
Fuel for throwaway rocket launch: $20 Million
Total cost of throwaway rocket launch: $100 Million

One reusable rocket, creation cost: $100 Million
Fuel for one launch, including overhead for landing fuel: $30 Million
Total cost for first launch: $130 Million

Refurbishment cost: $20 Million
Fuel for further launch: $30 Million
Total cost for each future launch: $50 Million.

Therefore by my seat-of-pants wild-ass-guess, it would be profitable on the second launch.

In reality, I assume that the first time cost is significantly higher, and that it will take half a dozen launches or more to reach profitability.


By mjv.theory on 12/27/2012 10:18:36 AM , Rating: 2
A flight of a disposable Falcon 9 can be purchased from SpaceX for $54,000,000 (prices are on their website). Elon Musk claims the cost of the fuel is about $200,000, which is 0.37% of the total cost.

Fuel per 100 flights = 100 x 200,000 = 20,000,000
Vehicle cost per 100 flights = 54,000,000
Ground operations and maintenance = 100 x 260,000

Cost per flight = $1,000,000

If the vehicle can fly 1000 times then to cost per flight is perhaps $500,000.


By sweatshopking on 12/27/2012 10:40:51 PM , Rating: 2
man, if only their world class engineers knew as much as you do!


By cyberguyz on 12/28/2012 6:32:57 AM , Rating: 2
You are thinking of this only in cost of raw materials. Those raw materials only make up 1/10th the cost of that rocket booster.

The rocket stages have to be engineered and manufactured to turn the raw materials into a rocket booster. That is not negligible. Manufacturing is not done in Chinese sweat shops. all the parts that make up that booster are custom hand-made one-off parts that takes months to build. There is no cost saving assembly line for these. That takes a lot of money. NASA didn't care about costs. They had Trillions of taxpayer $$$ to work with. They no longer have that and can no longer sustain the 'throw away' mentality they had before.

Look at the current SpaceX contract with the U.S government. A dozen supply runs for 1.6B. Do you really think NASA could do a dozen runs with the shuttle fleet for that?

I am not sure what the U.S. was paying for the shuttle runs, but I would bet is it at least 5 times that. Not having to re-manufacture solid fuel boosters for each run will go a long way to SpaceX keeping within that 1.6B budget and make some profit (they are after all a private company and not doing this to break even).


By mjv.theory on 12/29/2012 4:26:37 PM , Rating: 2
Taking into account all the costs for developing and running the Shuttle program, the cost of each and every single flight of the Shuttle cost 1.5 Billion dollars.

A crewed dragon flight will take up to 7 astronauts to orbit for $120,000,000 and Falcon 9 Heavy will be able to lift over twice the payload mass of the Shuttle for about $120,000,000. So SpaceX will be able to replace Shuttle capability for about 1/8 of the cost.


By DockScience on 12/28/2012 3:38:16 PM , Rating: 2
Spacex plans on recovering their stages via fly-back.

Most big solids are rubber, not aluminum, which fouls the nozzles.

One doesn't drop a lot of hardware into saltwater and expect it to live reliably.


By delphinus100 on 1/1/2013 1:54:02 PM , Rating: 2
Grasshopper isn't trying to be an SSTO precursor, this is the ultimate SpaceX goal:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWFFiubtC3c

...but SSTO can be done with sufficiently high mass fractions. The cost of fuel or oxidizer isn't the issue, and never was. (most of the deceleration from orbit will be aerodynamic, just as it is today...you need only re-enter with enough propellant to slow to a stop at the surface, from whatever the terminal velocity is of what is now a large, lightweight structure) The challenge is in materials that are light enough to achieve said mass fraction, but robust enough for repeated use.

Still being multi-stage, a partially or fully reusable Falcon has less stringent mass fraction constraints than SSTO. But you must have good reason to anticipate, and actually be capable of, a high flight rate to orbit for any kind of RLV to be worthwhile.


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