If for some reason you weren’t looking forward to next year, here is a reason to reconsider.
This video comes from a December 17th test flight of the SpaceX Grasshopper reusable test vehicle conducted at the company’s McGregor, Tx rocket development facility. Propelled by a Merlin 1D engine using deep throttling capability and closed loop vector control, the craft rose to 40 meters, hovered and then descended to a safe landing. In doing so, it significantly exceeded prior tests “hops” of 1.8 and 5.4 meters respectively.
Officially announced only a little over a year ago, the Grasshopper project is already making impressive progress, and with an increasingly complex series of flights planned in the first part of 2013, Elon Musk’s prediction that the vehicle will soon go supersonic is beginning to look very achievable.
Although the greatest part of challenge lies ahead, in reasserting control of the first stage immediately following thrust termination and stage separation, the fact that the test vehicle is derived from a proven rocket, the Falcon 9, and not the other way around, may be the single best indication that at long last, the era of rapidly reusable space transport is within sight.