Elon Musk just can’t stay out of the headlines this week. First it was Monday night’s announcement of alpha plans for the revolutionary Hyperloop transport system, and now it’s another company of his, SpaceX, that’s achieved something great.
The SpaceX Grasshopper is an experimental rocket designed to be reusable and manoeuvrable, which includes vertical take-off and landing capabilities. Announced in 2011, the Grasshopper completed its first successful landing earlier this year. Yesterday it reached another milestone, taking off, hovering at 250 metres, moving laterally 100 metres, and landing again on the launchpad.
Why does this matter? Grasshopper is an experimental craft, and the technology and knowledge gained from its development will be transferred to the larger Falcon-series rockets also build by SpaceX. Those actually go into outer space, but with Grasshopper tech, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets can be turned into reusable propulsion systems. Rather than those rocket stages being discarded they can safely return to Earth and land in convenient locations. Far better than having them splash down at sea, or discarding them completely.