WASHINGTON, December 24 (RIA Novosti) - The private US space engineering firm SpaceX released a video over the weekend showing its Grasshopper rocket making a short but important journey that could take space exploration to new heights: reusable rockets that can lift off and land back on Earth vertically, to reduce the cost of commercial space travel.
“The Grasshopper program is a critical step toward achieving SpaceX's goal of developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets,” the company said on its website.
“With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are testing the technology that would allow a launched rocket to land intact, rather than burning up upon reentry to Earth's atmosphere.”
The video shows what happened during the December 17 test flight from the SpaceX launch facility in McGregor, Texas.
As the engines fired up, the 10-story tall Grasshopper rocket lifted 12 stories – 131 feet (40 meters) – in the air, hovered in place, and then gently returned to earth, settling safely on the landing pad.
It was the third test launch for the Grasshopper, each one higher than the one before.
The first fight in September lifted six feet (1.8 meters) in the air. The second one in November rose 17.7 feet (5.4 meters).
The company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, tweeted like a proud dad on Sunday, sending out photos and the video, and making it clear that this wasn’t exactly an unmanned flight, there was a dummy cowboy riding along, standing on the deck, complete with a tall, black cowboy hat.
Cowboy riding the rocket no problemo twitter.com/elonmusk/statu…— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 24, 2012
SpaceX has successfully sent its Dragon capsules to resupply the International Space Station and is working on a version of the Dragon to carry astronauts into orbit.