SpaceX is moving its Grasshopper test program to New Mexico’s spaceport.


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SpaceX is moving its Grasshopper test program to New Mexico’s spaceport.

The move confirms big plans for the test bed. Flights to date have been conducted at SpaceX’s engine test site in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX received a waiver from the FAA to fly Grasshopper up to 11,500ft from McGregor, but Spaceport America is an FAA-certified spaceport where no where no waivers are required. “Spaceport America offers us the physical and regulatory landscape needed to complete the next phase of Grasshopper testing,” says SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

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16 comments

  • JGL

    What kind of missions will this type of very cool system perform? Its like the Segway for space.
    Is it designed to be reused in earth launch and earth landing scenarios? Earth to moon or other body? I remember seeing such systems in sci / fi movies but always thought that the fuel requirement was too large. Will it be refueled after launch and then landed?

  • SpaceX’s goal with Grasshopper is to make the first stage of the Falcon 9 totally reusable. If that stage can return to the launchpad unharmed after a launch, they will be able to reduce their cost to get to orbit by 100 percent, if not more.

    They say they have run the numbers, and the savings will vastly outweigh the reduction in the amount of payload they can get to orbit because of the use of fuel to bring the first stage back.

    I was at first skeptical, but having thought about it now think they might have something here. Either way, they are going to try it.

  • Plus, they shouldn’t need a vast amount of fuel to land a nearly empty stage. Any idea if SpaceX will use parachutes to help slow it down along the way, or would they be completely inconsequential?

  • I don’t know if they plan on using parachutes. I do know that Musk has said that they will begin attempting a safe controlled return of the first stage with the very first upgraded Falcon 9 launch, which is the very next scheduled launch. They do not expect to succeed, but hope to get closer each time until they do.

  • JGL

    I love that all of these internet and computer billionaires are investing in such things. Thanks for your answers.

  • JGL

    You might have to choose either parachutes or a self landing system, I think that a parachute might make the success of landing more complicated due to the potential of wind interfering in a controlled landing system.

  • JGL

    Q 1: What is the estimated number of private sector jobs have these private company efforts generated?

    Q2: What are the estimated future numbers of private jobs be?

  • Pzatchok

    It will need to use at least a set of drogue chutes.

    At the height it will be released and the second stage started the first stage would tumble as it fell back. This can not be helped. But the chutes can be let go long before the rockets refire to start the controlled landing.
    They could also be used to slow it down to a reasonable speed.

    As for drifting off course. Will they would just have to launch on a low wind day and make sure its projected landing area is well clear of houses. More than likely the empty dessert.

    Eventually the second stage might be landed the same way.

  • Q1: probably not a lot, numbering significantly less than 10,000 at this point.

    Q2: Your question is like the one asked by tourists when they visit a commercial cave: “How many miles of unexplored passages are there here?” How can anyone possibly answer that question?

    Anyway, the potential is limitless, as space exploration will be the dominate activity for essentially the entire human race for the rest of its history.

    Another way to look at it: Columbus discovered the New World. Do we care that this discovery increased the number of jobs in the shipping business? No, because the real payoff from the discovery of the New World was the vast new societies that grew out of it, not the jobs in this one industry.

  • JGL

    Its funny you mention caves, I have never been to one.

  • I believe they intend to just throw propellant at the problem until they get success and then optimize. Apparently they’re doing the maneuvering entirely with engine gimbling and cold-jet thrusters.

  • I concur. The old robber barons of the late 19th – early 20th century built things, and then sat on their money. The new breed of very wealthy are building things, and then using their money to build more, exciting things. Make no mistake, they’re not doing this to realize childhood dreams (likely) or because it’s really cool (it is), but to make even more money. I hope they all succeed beyond their dreams.

  • Pzatchok

    They are doing that now. When they are lifting off from the ground.

    But if you think about it on launch the rocket is NOT moving straight vertical but in an ever angled flight in order to reach an orbital velocity.

    A pure vertical launch would be what Spaceship One is going for. Without any forward momentum it can NOT reach orbit around the earth and will thus just gently fall back without reaching speed enough for a burn up.

    By the time SpaceX’s first stage is let loose its at almost a 45* angle to the ground and still moving forward at great speed.
    As soon as the first stage is let lose its blunt nose will be full on into the wind and start the vehicle tumbling. At this point it should deploy drogue chutes from the top to stop and tumbling and give it a tail down orientation until it gets to a preplanned altitude. More than likely a few thousand feet for a first entry fire and then about a thousand feet for a full on landing firing. At this point it would let the chutes go and rely on the rocket engines to hit the ground.

    Not all that much different than the way the mars rover landed.

  • “With respect to the recovery, the initial recovery attempts will be from a water landing. The first stage booster will, after separation, continue in a ballistic arc and execute a velocity reduction burn before hitting the atmosphere, just to lessen the impact. Then, right before sort-of splashdown of the stage, it’s going to light the engine again. So, there will be two burns after stage separation, if things go well. But I really want to emphasize that we don’t expect success in the first several attempts. Hopefully next year, with a lot more experience and data, we should be able to return the first stage to the launch site, deploy the landing legs and do a propulsive landing on land – back at the launch site. So, this year is about just recovering – hopefully recovering – the first stage, at all, from an ocean landing and then next year it’ll be the boost-back, return to launch site, with the landing gear deployed. That’s our aspiration.” – Elon Musk

    The other information, in regards to cold jet thrusters, is from a SpaceX employee on the NASA Spaceflight Forum.

    I certainly see the appeal of drogues, but I’ve not heard anyone from the company say they’ll be using them. In regards to parachutes, I’ve heard that they’ve removed them entirely from the first and second stages as they don’t consider them worth the added weight anymore. I didn’t ask if that meant drogues too, but it seems to be implied.

  • Pzatchok

    Thanks Trent.

    I just never heard or even thought they would or could attempt a first stage recovery after reaching an orbit with it. Meaning out of the atmosphere.
    As far as I can tell from all other launches it would be going over 10,000 miles and hour. And need just as much fuel to slow down so as to not burn on re-entry as it takes to reach that speed.

    The second stage maybe.

  • Yep, stage separation happens at Mach 10 (~7,612 miles per hour). They have to flip the stage over and do a burn of the rocket engine to slow it down some (how much? no idea) before it hits the atmosphere, which slows it down a lot more. Then it falls, and eventually slows to terminal velocity. Just before impact, the stage has to right itself ( it’s not aerodynamically stable) and burn the engine again to prevent breaking apart.

    This is, simply, awesome. I’ll be surprised if they pull it off on the second or third go.

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