Rocket launch filmed by drone

The SpaceX Grasshopper's latest launch—and graceful descent!—captured by a drone-mounted camera. Grasshopper was most recently seen terrifying the cows.

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.

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  1. It's delightful to see a rocket land on its tail, the way SF always told us they should. I'm not sure it's practical, but if nothing else it's a great exercise in developing finer control over the engine.

    Pity there's no excuse to give it fins too.

    (Who was it who first described a rocket engine as "a continuous explosion"?)

  2. That analogy's missing some important details. It's more like: Would you like to see me, a 0.4mm high human, while training for the Olympic High Jump, jump over a 1cm high bar (that's 25 times my own height!), land on tip-toe on a target only 0.8mm wide? Oh, and also: all previous high jumpers - regardless of size - have been killed and/or incinerated after their first attempt.

    With that in mind, yes - I'd like to see that video!

  3. But where's the frog?

  4. Some context might help. Grasshopper is testing systems that are being developed to recover the first stage of the two stage Falcon 9 launch vehicle. It is built from a Falcon 9 first stage with all but one engine removed. Falcon 9 has already reached orbit 6 times (5 times with the version that the current Grasshopper vehicle was built from, and most recently just a couple of weeks ago with an upgraded version).

    SpaceX is developing a fully reusable launch system, in which both the first and second stage return to the landing site after being jettisoned, rather than discarded like in currently operational launch vehicles. Here is an animation showing how the Falcon 9R will work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSF81yjVbJE (the animation is a bit out of date, since it is based on the old Falcon 9 v1.0, which has been superseded by the newer v1.1, which is longer and has its 9 engines in a different configuration).

    This may be the last flight of this vehicle, as a newer version of Grasshopper has been built using a v1.1 first stage. While Grasshopper has been testing the landing phase of the first stage recovery operation, SpaceX has also been testing other end of the operation. In the maiden flight of Falcon 9 v1.1 just a couple of weeks ago (which successfully deployed a Canadian satellite called CASSIOPE), they attempted to fly back the first stage to make a "soft" touchdown in the ocean. Unfortunately, the stage ended up spinning too fast, which choked off fuel from the engine. Apparently in the final version of Falcon 9R, the landing legs will act as spin stabilizers as well, which this launch vehicle did not have.

    A good overview of current plans for developing the reusable Falcon 9, which I find immensely exciting, can be found here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/10/musk-plans-reusability-falcon-9-rocket/

  5. And this is why Grasshopper is hugely practical and SpaceX has so many squealing fanboys, me included.

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