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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 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.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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