As mentioned in the January,
NewSpace Spotlights, the company SpaceX
is developing a fully and rapidly reusable
launch vehicle based on its Falcon 9 rocket.
If successful, such a reusable system would
drastically lower the cost of getting to
Last fall they began testing a prototype
first stage reusable booster called Grasshopper.
It takes off and lands vertically. In June
2013 the Grasshopper reached a new record
Grasshopper 325m Test
with Single Camera View from Hexacopter
In this test the Grasshopper for the first
made use of its full navigation sensor
suite with the F9-R closed loop control
flight algorithms to accomplish a precision
landing. Most rockets are equipped with
sensors to determine position, but these
sensors are generally not accurate enough
to accomplish the type of precision landing
necessary with Grasshopper.
Previous Grasshopper tests relied on
the other rocket sensors but for this
test, an additional, higher accuracy sensor
was in the control loop. In other words,
SpaceX was directly controlling the vehicle
based on new sensor readings, adding a
new level of accuracy in sensing the distance
between Grasshopper and the ground, enabling
a more precise landing.
Tests of the Grasshopper will move this
autumn to Spaceport
America in New Mexico where it will
be allowed to go to much higher altitudes
than at the Texas site.
Also, during upcoming satellite launches
with the new Falcon 9-R rocket, which uses
the improved Merlin 1-D engine, SpaceX will
attempt to return the the first stage to
a hover landing above the water rather than
simply crashing the first stage into the
ocean as in previous flights. Once these
hover tests are successfully demonstrated,
they will in subsequent launches attempt
to fly the booster back to the launch site.