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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 12/27/2012 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.

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