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SpaceX's prototype rocket Grasshopper hovers at 820 feet in highest flight yet

SpaceX's prototype rocket Grasshopper hovers at 820 feet in highest flight yet

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Last night SpaceX released a video of the latest successful test flight of its Grasshopper prototype rocket, a spacecraft designed to launch and land vertically. We've already seen the Grasshopper hit some impressive marks, flying over 260 feet high in March before landing precisely back on the launch pad at SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas. But this latest test flight, Grasshopper's fifth, continues SpaceX's goal of launching the rocket to ever-increasing heights — this time up to 820 feet. Even more impressively, the rocket managed to hover in place at that height, holding "against wind," before returning squarely to the launch pad, as SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted.

The Grasshopper isn't spaceworthy quite yet and it's not clear just when it will be. But SpaceX's goal in designing the craft — which is based on parts from its active Falcon 9 rocket lineup and Merlin 1D engines, with added metal landing legs — is to make the first ever viable, commercial, rapidly reusable rocket. SpaceX thinks that the technology will drastically reduce the costs associated with spaceflight and pave the way for more routine launches into orbit, including by civilians, as Musk has repeatedly stated in the past.

Update: A spokesperson with SpaceX tells us that the company hopes to rapidly implement the reusability technology being tested here for its space launches by retrieving and reusing a Falcon 9 first-stage rocket component from a water landing in the ocean later this year. SpaceX could also attempt a first-stage landing on dry ground using the landing legs in 2014.

Update: SpaceX this afternoon just posted another video of the test flight, this time with the natural sound of the launch. Check it out below: