back to article Elon Musk's 'Grasshopper' hover rocket scores another test success

SpaceX, the radical upstart startup rocket firm helmed by PayPal hecamillionaire and geek visionary Elon Musk, has announced a further successful trial of its hovering "Grasshopper" test vehicle. According to the company: On Thursday, March 7, 2013, SpaceX’s Grasshopper doubled its highest leap to date to rise 24 stories …


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  1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


    Can any rocket surgeons in the room explain what's generating the flame that appears parallel to the exhaust plume, but which doesn't look like it's providing any thrust?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Funky

      I'm not a rocket surgeon but it looks like a turbopump - a fuel pump powered by a turbine engine.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Funky

      yup, fuel pump turbine exhaust, which reignites and burns fully in the much hotter rocket plume.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Funky

      Looks like an open-cycle engine, so, as the other AC says, it's the exhaust from the turbo pumps.

      Compare to

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Funky


    4. Joe Cooper

      Re: Funky

      The exhaust is actually the part that vectors. If you watch launch footage of the second stage in flight you can see it steer to perform attitude control. This way the main engine nozzle doesn't have to vector.

      Here's a fantastic clip of the Space Shuttle main engine vectoring in a test fire:

      Flame, because, you know.

      1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

        Re: Funky

        I watched it again and I can't see the small exhaust vectoring. I can see the extendable-strut thingies directing the main nozzle, so I think it's the main engine doing the vectoring.

        Either way: impressive result!

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Congratulations !

    Well done to everyone involved.

  3. SW

    Was this a 'manned' or a 'mannequined' trial...?

    A beer to the guy standing just above the engines that went up and down without even losing his hat !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Was this a 'manned' or a 'mannequined' trial...?

      The man with the hat is... The Dr.


    2. Roger Gann

      Re: Was this a 'manned' or a 'mannequined' trial...?

      Given the music accompanying this impressive vid, I took the passenger to be the Man in Black himself.

  4. SW

    Strange URL

    What gives ?


    Where's the anti ageing story?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Strange URL

      Pharma SEO fail?

    2. Barry Dingle

      Re: Strange URL

      The anti-ageing properties will come somewhat later, when the current readers are deceased and Space X has achieved something fractionally closer to the speed of light for its spacecraft. The "Australia" bit is just a sly reference to America's way of thinking of Texas as a dumping ground for convicts and dimwits.

    3. Shades
      Thumb Up

      Re: Strange URL

      Glad I'm not the only one to have noticed that!

  5. Kharkov

    Way to go, SpaceX!

    Well, kudos to SpaceX. They put together a very smooth operation there.

    Nice article too (weird about the URL but never mind...) but does anyone have any info on the number of 'hops' expected in 2013? And the expected milestone for each hop?

    If I were one of the vice-presidents over at ULA, I'd be cashing in my stock options over the next few years...

    1. detritus
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Way to go, SpaceX!

      ...or investigating ways to surreptitiously undermine/break SpaceX's progress.

      1. Kharkov

        Re: Way to go, SpaceX!

        Oooh, sneaky - Me likey!

        Seriously though, ULA is more likely to lobby Congress harder to get the Air Force/NRO/DOD launch contracts booked through ULA that they are to find ways to make their launchers cheaper. While SpaceX does have a foot in the door, ULA is in the dominant position over there. I'd say that that ULA's strategy was to keep milking their cash-cow for as long as possible before being relegated to the dustbin of history.

        At which point the various execs transfer back to Boeing/Lockheed etc and start overseeing next-gen air-to-air/surface-to-air missiles or other new aerospace projects which, like the F-35, will be highly likely to come in waaaay over budget. But those execs will still get their huge salaries and bonuses so no worries there.

        The actual workers will get their pink slips because management was't interested in building stuff that was competitive on the open market but hey, did anyone think it would turn out any other way?

  6. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    I do like the way SpaceX seem to keep doing things that can't be done!

    1. Vulch

      So far...

      Grasshopper is doing the same sort of stuff as the DC-X did a few years ago, for instance is still a bit ahead.

      If they drop it and break it like NASA did with the DC-X though it will be a lot easier and quicker to replace so it should soon surpass earlier efforts.

      1. MrXavia

        Re: So far...

        and Armadillo have been 'hopping' for a while now.... another, not quite as rich, tech millionaire behind that as well

        1. Badvok

          Re: So far...

          Not sure you can directly compare this with the DC-X or Armadillo, which have indeed pulled off some pretty amazing flights, but in my non-expert opinion those look more akin to balancing a match-box on your finger rather than a vertical snooker cue as SpaceX have done.

          1. David Given

            Re: So far...

            Don't forget that that fuel tank is nearly empty, so the centre of gravity is way down low --- the the whole point of the system is to land spent first-stage boosters, using the engines they already have, using the dregs of the fuel they've already used. The fact that the stage itself is six storeys high (twice as big as the office building I work in!) is deceptive.

            1. Vulch

              Re: So far...

              The liquid oxygen tank is at the top though so the weight distribution is vaguely dumb-bell shape.

              It's actually easier to steer a rocket using vectored thrust if the weight is high up, if you've got a Fred Astaire style dancing cane, or failing that a small hammer, handy try balancing it on a finger both ways up and see which is easier to control.

        2. cortland

          Re: So far...

          re Armadillos hopping.

          Yes, they fatally target vehicle bumpers; Texas kamikazes.

  7. S4qFBxkFFg
    Thumb Up

    This reminds me of playing with the Ada rocket package, and being impressed with myself getting a perfect pad landing on the other side of the screen; possibly with a loop or two, although I can't remember if I cracked that. Admittedly it was only 2D, and open-loop to boot, but still fun.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    That's "T/W >1" untill they throttled it down.

    And all of their hover tests needed that to take off in the first place.

    But an excellent piece of work and gradual expansion of the flight envelope.

    Breaking the Mach barrier some time this year?

    1. bjornl

      Re: That's "T/W >1" untill they throttled it down.

      No, that's T>W > 1 when touching down, as you can plainly see since the craft is slowing its descent at that time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That's "T/W >1" untill they throttled it down.

        Your post makes zero sense.

  9. Emilio Desalvo

    Musk is also planning to put a heat shield in front of the second stage, and have it re-enter the atmosphere and then land vertically like the first stage.

    Then, only the capsule trunk would be lost .

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nice but is it efficient

    It's a nice idea to be able to land your capsule. But I'm not sure it's a particularly efficient (i.e. low weight) solution. Maybe splashing in the ocean is not ideal, but the russians land theirs on land with parachutes. Maybe a small rocket just to cushion the last few feet and avoid a thump. Sure, you cannot get pinpoint accuracy, but recovering an undamaged capsule by helicopter or truck is a lot cheaper than carrying the extra fuel and rocket motors into space with you to enable you to land yourself.

    It'd be pretty scary too coming in to land by rocket compared to parachutes. Presumably they have to kick in pretty late or you're going to waste a lot of fuel hovering down. Very little time to bail out if there is a misfire. Maybe the plan is for the astronauts to bail out and let the thing land itself... that would seem a lot safer.

    But if they can get a reusable first stage (and even better, second stage too), that would really be key to making it cheaper, even if these parts cannot land themselves.

    1. MrXavia

      Re: nice but is it efficient

      not really, the infrastructure to go collect & refurbish rockets is pretty hefty...

      the ocean is a big place....

      With a tail first soft landing, it is 100% intact, check the tyres, re-stack it etc... & reuse...

      With parachute, its find it first, collect, test EVERY component to ensure nothing got damaged in the impact, then re-stack & reuse..

      Don't underestimate the cost savings of NOT having 100 high paid guys standing round while you go on a rocket hunt...

      But while this is all great, I still think Skylon & its successors are going to be the final key to opening space... but projects such as this will gain exposure and interest in investment, which will help others who don't have big multi-millionaires backing them

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: nice but is it efficient

        Er....I suggested landing on land by parachute, not the sea.

        And I specifically mentioned a small rocket just to cushion last few feet. There is no reason for such a landing to require any more of a refurb than a full rocket powered descent. It can be just as soft.

        But you're right about the rocket hunt though. That's the killer. If only boffins could devise some way to locate things anywhere on the earth accurately within seconds, perhaps using satellites and atomic clocks?

    2. David Given

      Re: nice but is it efficient

      The short answer is: yes, it is. Because parachutes are big and heavy, and the rocket engines are free --- you've already used them to launch with! The only overheads are the avionics, the landing gear, and some dregs of fuel left in the tank from the launch. As the tank is now almost completely empty, it's a lot lighter than it looks in the video.

      Also, don't forget that this is just for landing the first stage. It's never reaching orbit. SpaceX are *also* working on rocket-landing the Dragon capsule, using scaled up versions of the existing manoeuvring thrusters, for exactly the same reasons, but that's a totally different system.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: nice but is it efficient

        If parachutes are 'big and heavy', why is nobody jumping out of aeroplanes with rocket packs?

        Maybe it would be more costly. But consider a pilot ejecting from a $100m dollar fighter jet. His seat is already rocket powered, and yet he still comes down by parachute.

        1. Franklin

          Re: nice but is it efficient

          "If parachutes are 'big and heavy', why is nobody jumping out of aeroplanes with rocket packs?"

          Rocket packs are free if you're already in a rocket, because you...err, use the same ones you done launched with. Don't know too many folks who go skydiving from backpack rocket rigs...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @ Franklin

            "done launched"

            In what plane of reality does that combination of words have any meaning?

          2. LPF

            Re: nice but is it efficient

            But dont you wish we had them :)

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: nice but is it efficient

          The pilot lands by parachute after jettisoning the seat.

          Now imagine the size/mass of a parachute necessary to recover the entire aircraft.

          Not to mention that while the boosters don't go to orbit, they're moving pretty fast. They have to be slowed down.

          Other options for returning boosters involve stub wings and runways - but that's extra weight too.

  11. MrXavia
    Thumb Up


    They may not the first to do this, but it is still a very impressive step forward for them!

    I've wondered for years why not just build each stage a LITTLE bigger and make it able to land...

    since fuel is cheap relative to the rocket construction costs!

    Oh, and just think, for planets with little or no atmosphere, this would be a great way to land... I.E. the moon!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Fuel is cheap, but it's heavy. Then you need extra fuel to lift that extra bit of fuel, then you need more fuel to lift that fuel ......

      The real trick here isn't the balancing, that's just having a computer faster than a zx81 and engines that can tilt faster than the pendulum frequency of the stack. The trick is managing the fuel down to the last drop especially tricky when one of the fuels is cryogenic.

  12. Dave Bell

    Rocket Landing is old hat

    Some of the first efforts to use rocket braking were tried during WW2. It didn't quite work, partly because of the effects of the rocket blast on unprepared ground. The Soviet Union deployed a solution that involved a parachute, with the rocket pack between the payload and the parachute.

    I've seen film of those WW2 tests. The rocket blast was excavating a crater, which was reflecting an asymmetric gas flow which flipped over the payload.

    If SpaceX want to use the rocket landing approach, they have to be able to land on ordinary open ground, and they have to pretty accurately steer to a safe area. The Dragon capsule might be more stable, less likely to topple or flip, than a booster stage, but what size of target area will they need?

    Water landings ain't easy, but the sea is big, and a lot more uniform. There are no trees and no sticking-up boulders.

    1. Wemb
      Thumb Down

      Re: Rocket Landing is old hat

      There's also Hajile - achieving a 'soft landing' by firing solid-fuel cordite rockets just before impact. Didn't work at all well...

    2. James Hughes 1

      Re: Rocket Landing is old hat @Dave bell

      Surely the point is that they return to a specific point and land there - which is entirely possible - rather than landing on 'ordinary open ground'. So you can make a landing pad that can withstand the blast. You can also put it in an area with no trees or boulders. A bit like the pad they are practising on....

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Rocket Landing is old hat

      > Some of the first efforts to use rocket braking were tried during WW2

      Hold on.

      What EXACTLY were people trying to rocket-brake during WW2? And how??

      Germans were just barely managing to get A4s airborne and on trajectory. Have you seen the analog on-board computers for that (google up Hoelzer's Mischgerät). It was a pretty tall order, and Hoelzer recalls prussian generals and university profs giving him the laughing treatment. Luckily for him he didn't get the cybernetics-is-a-jewish-and-bourgeois-science treatment too. Doing the even more tricky braking manoeuver sounds dicey.

  13. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Great stuff!

    "Grasshopper" does instantly remind me of the Kung Fu series with David Carradine, however.

    That says a lot about my age, I suppose

    1. philbo

      Re: Great stuff!

      Me, too...

      "Glasshopper, you will not be kung fu master until you can catch a fly using chopsticks"

      "But Master, I can do this"

      "Not without killing the fly"

  14. Ralph B


    Well, it's very clever, but it's hardly brain surgery.

  15. Winkypop Silver badge

    Flying bedstead Mk2

    Pity Neil's not around to give it a spin.

  16. tempemeaty
    Thumb Up


    Fantastic work. They are doing it right!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd murder a curry right now...

  18. big_D Silver badge

    No video

    Sony Music pulled the video, here in Germany...

  19. Mike Richards

    Not retro-futuristic enough

    Do you think we can persuade Elon Musk to redesign it so as to more closely resemble Thunderbird 3?

  20. ecofeco Silver badge

    20 Years Later

    It only took 20 years after the Delta Clipper (DC-X) project to make this happen... again. (google it)


  21. William Donelson


  22. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Someone please remind Lester and the SPB...

    This is *not* an available option for Lohan.

  23. umacf24

    Spalshdown is vulgar.

    Gentlemen land on their jets.

  24. brainwrong

    Strange comment

    "At touchdown, the thrust to weight ratio of the vehicle was greater than one"

    Of course it was, what a pointless thing to say! Or is that just a fancy way of saying that it didn't crash land?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Strange comment

      No - a plane with the engines off still lands, rather than crashes, even with a thrust to weight ratio of 0.

      This was actively hovering - not just a slowed descent.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Score: Elon 1, the other guys 5

    Elon isn't too happy that he lost his lawsuit against Top Gear for showing his no so good EV dying on track. In addition Musk didn't do himself any favors with his public spat with the NY Times reporter who was candid about his 300 mile journey in a Tesla toy. Musk will also lose that lawsuit that hasn't been filed yet.

  26. LordHighFixer

    hearts a flutter

    All of the Mars One fans are ooo'ing and ahhh'ing over this. This is a nice step forward in not having a "impact landing" on mars. Any landing you can walk away from and all that...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me

    of the Nulka.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Standing Freaking Ovation

    Well done you. It only looks simple when experts spend decades of man years making it come together.

  29. 1Rafayal

    always enjoy reading about SpaceX these days.

    I am not a rocket or SpaceX fanboi, but they certainly seem to be pushing in a very interesting direction.

    1. Kharkov
      Thumb Up

      Interesting? Well, yeah but 'cheap' is a better word for what SpaceX is doing...

      Interesting? Yes but much more significantly, SpaceX is doing more to get humanity off this planet than anyone else.

      They're already cheaper than anyone else *cough*ULA*cough* in the business and is anyone else trying to make their rockets cheaper? Not that anyone can see.

      SpaceX is also trying to make their rockets reusable (at the cost of reduced payload but that's not necessarily a bad thing for the Falcon 9 v1.1 & certainly not for the upcoming Falcon Heavy) which will reduce launch costs even more, and allow even more launches per year.

      Make it cheap enough, and everyone'll do it...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Interesting? Well, yeah but 'cheap' is a better word for what SpaceX is doing...

        >Make it cheap enough, and everyone'll do it...

        One question is how elastic is the space market?

        Apart from dreams of asteroid mining or exploration how many satelite launches does the world need?

        Telecoms satelites haven't been competitive with fibre for nearly 2 decades, we have 4 separate sat-nav systems and geostationary is pretty much full - and becoming irrelevant in the Netflix era.

        1. Kharkov

          Re: Interesting? Well, yeah but 'cheap' is a better word for what SpaceX is doing...

          How elastic was the exploration market just prior to Columbus? Spain wasn't desperately short of food or space and yet Columbus got his funding (but not the right to a percentage of all the returns from the New World, something that was denied to him in the small print - a lesson for all of us there...) to go off and explore.

          There wasn't much of a return for Spain in the very early days but the New World became a galvanizing idea for the Spanish population (in fact, over the next two centuries Spain DEpopulated, its population actually shrank as people flooded out to the Americas) and they, followed by other Europeans, rushed out to develop and make a new life for themselves in the New World.

          Make getting off the planet cheap and people will, again, be stirred up. People will, over time, head out to develop the New Frontier and, in time, make a new economy, of ideas, of trade etc.

  30. edwardbr

    I like the spanish blocke tied to the side of the rocket, check out the video near the end. Big Cajones!

  31. Dan Paul

    Great work, similar to the LEM but better with automatic control

    The Lunar Excursion Module did a similar landing during the Apollo Moon missions. The first Lunar landing was a problem because the surface of the original landing site was full of boulders about the size of cars and the crew had to go to manual control and change direction to somewhere flatter.

    The problem then was that the main engine was not at all designed for vectoring, they had to use the attitude jets (little cross shaped things all over the LEM) for directional control and modulate the main engine to allow a gentle descent or ascent. Thank god they had the sense to use a (somewhat) modulating engine or they would a different kind of history.

    Landing the LEM in full manual with an untested engine was truly a scary feat of flying.

    This Grasshopper is just like those old SF movie landings with a full rocket landing vertical (Destination Moon). Let's see them do it in a 25 mph breeze now. That will be the real test of the automated control system.

  32. James Pickett

    "Merlin rocket engine"

    I remember when Merlin engines drove propellors...

    Also, when did VTOL become VTVL?

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