SpaceX’s Grasshopper Puts a New Spin on Space Travel
For the past decade in the US, the exploration of space has been gradually and forcefully expanding beyond NASA’s sphere of influence. Partly because of the end of the Cold War, and partly because of concerns about the federal deficits, the will to spend tax dollars on space missions has continued to wane.
That vacuum has not gone unfilled, however; SpaceX and a number of other fledgling space transport companies have stepped in to provide a free-market alternative to the space shuttle and other NASA programs. Indeed, NASA now utilizes SpaceX and the others as contract transportation providers for missions that involve research and resupplying scientists on the International Space Station.
SpaceX, while providing a much-needed service and continuing to build its business, simultaneously is researching new technologies and new vehicle systems. It was that research effort that led them to test the Grasshopper rocket system. The purpose of the flight was to test the ability of the Grasshopper to make precision vertical take-offs and landings. The vehicle broke its own records by soaring over 2400 feet in the air, moving laterally, and returning gently to the same spot on the launching pad.
The Grasshopper program is being designed to work in conjunction with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space vehicle, and each successive step will bring them closer to their goal of operating a totally reusable spacecraft. The endgame is a cheaper and safer way to transport personnel and materials to and from space. From there, the exploration of space can expand in a hitherto unimagined way.