SpaceX just overcame a glitch to connect its Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station last week, but the company's work on its next generation of rockets is going a bit smoother. On Saturday, SpaceX launched its reusable test rocket Grasshopper from McGregor, Texas, on its highest and most accurate test flight yet, landing in the center of launch pad for the first time. Later that day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk showed off footage of the 262.8-foot-high launch during his keynote at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, saying "If we’re going to be a multiplanet species, we must have reusable rockets." He also tweeted about the test flight, calling it the "Johnny Cash hover slam."
The 100-foot-tall Grasshopper uses parts from Falcon 9 reconfigured into a new design with metal legs to allow for vertical takeoff and landing (VTVL), a process that SpaceX is banking on as being cheaper than the current method of letting the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket detach during launch and fall back to Earth on every launch. To this end, SpaceX has been testing the Grasshopper with successively higher launches in Texas since September 2012. Musk and company haven't yet shared a definitive timeline on when they could actually use Grasshopper for spaceflight, but it's clearly getting a little bit closer with every hop.
Laura June contributed to this report.