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SpaceX's Grasshopper Rocket Lands Safely After Reaching New Heights [VIDEO]

Jul 08, 2013 01:36 PM EDT
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SpaceX's reusable rocket prototype reached a new height of 1,066 feet (325 meters), or roughly the height of the Chrysler Building in New York City, before returning safely back to its launchpad in its latest trial run.

All told, the rocket consisting 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 hovered for several seconds before beginning its descent.

During the landing, the spacecraft made use of its full navigation sensor suite for the first time, according to the company's YouTube page, meaning that flight personnel were directly controlling Grasshopper based on new sensor readings.

"Most rockets are equipped with sensors to determine position, but these sensors are generally not accurate enough to accomplish the type of precision landing necessary with Grasshopper," its developers explained.

Grasshopper itself is 10 stories tall and designed to take off vertically. It's main mission involves testing the technology required to return a rocket back to Earth still intact, versus allowing it to simply burn up in the atmosphere in re-entry.

"SpaceX rockets are being designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing," according to those behind the project.

Such a rocket is just one facet of SpaceX's overall goal of developing affordable space travel, though even this doesn't represent the end goal for PayPal's Elon Musk who founded the company in 2002 with the aim of enabling the colonization of other planets.

Meanwhile, SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule has completed two contracted missions to resupply the International Space Station, the most recent of which took place in March.

Thus far, it remains the only private company to ever return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit - a task it first accomplished in Dec. 2010.

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