By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Earlier this week, SpaceX – a private company that designs and builds spacecraft – tested their rocket, the Grasshopper. And guess what? The 10-story-tall rocket flew straight up to around 330 meters (1082 feet), hovered for a moments… then moved sideways. Yup! After staying in the air for about half a minute, the Grasshopper began its descent towards Earth and landed safely on it’s little rocket feet.
Whoop-de-do, so a rocket moved sideways, big deal. Actually it is! You see, Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, is working on designing a reusable rocket, and this seemingly plain maneuver brings him one step closer. “If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” said Musk. “A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”
Just to give you an idea, the Falcon 9 costs about as much to build as a typical commercial airplane: $54 million. However, unlike the planes that can fly hundreds of thousands of times during their career, the rocket can only run once! If the company wants to send another one into space, they have to build a brand new one from scratch. In order to create a reusable rocket, it has to be able to fly complicated paths and not just shoot straight into the air. The Grasshopper’s sideways flight means the company is one step closer to designing a ship that can move more ways than one. “Diverts like this are an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after re-entering from space at hypersonic velocity,” said the SpaceX officials.
For this initial test, the Grasshopper only went around 330 feet in the air. The company is planning to test the rocket again, but this time, fly it 3,330 feet into the air! If they can successfully drive the rocket to space and back, it will save a ton of money, which they can spend on sending more rockets – and humans – into space.
Images and video courtesy of SpaceX.