On Monday, October 7th, Grasshopper completed its highest leap to date, rising to 744m altitude. The view above is taken from a single camera hexacopter, getting closer to the stage than in any previous flight.
Grasshopper is a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact. While most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere reentry, SpaceX rockets are being designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing. The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal.
Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.
Grasshopper is about 106 feet tall–nearly the same height as the Titan II Gemini rockets (at 109 feet) that flew between the Mercury and Apollo flights.
This is what SpaceX intends to do:
And they are likely to successfully recover a Falcon 9-R first stage as early as the first half of 2014. Then they can start working on recovering the second stages. It is important to understand just how significant this is: it will transform the economics of spaceflight. It cost about 10,000 dollars per pound for the Space Shuttle to take something to orbit. The current, expendable Falcon 9 does it for about 1000 dollars a pound and once they start recovering the first stage, the cost will drop by half. Imagine the difference in cost if after every flight your aircraft was discarded, versus what it is now, with the plane being reusable. SpaceX is now bringing that to spaceflight. It will be transformative.