According to an August 14 news release on the SpaceX web site, on August 13, the company’s Falcon 9 test vehicle – the aptly-named “Grasshopper,” a two-stage rocket taller than a 10-story building – completed a lateral movement test to demonstrate the spacecraft’s capacity to perform violent directional maneuvers. During the test, Grasshopper lifted off from the launch pad to a height of 250 meters (820.21 feet), and then proceeded to make a lateral movement of 100 meters (328.08 feet), before returning to the launch pad. The test highlights the importance of precisely understanding the control problem that is unique to the Grasshopper test vehicle. The aggressive maneuvers performed by the test vehicle are required, as it must be landed precisely back onto the launch pad after hyper-sonic (speed in excess of Mach 5) reentry from space.
The Falcon 9 is designed and manufactured by SpaceX to transport satellite payloads inside of a composite fairing, or inside of the company’s Dragon Spacecraft. The Falcon 9 boasts a two-stage configuration, which limits the number of separation events that must occur prior to delivering the payload to space. Its nine, first-stage Merlin engines allow the vehicle to complete a given mission in spite of an emergency engine shutdown.
In 2012, the Falcon 9 made history when it delivered the Dragon spacecraft into orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station. This feat made SpaceX the first commercial company to dock with the station. Following this event, Dragon has completed three missions to the ISS, delivering and returning payloads for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Falcon 9-Dragon spacecraft configuration was designed to deliver humans into orbit and, according to SpaceX officials, the company is working towards that objective.
According to the SpaceX company web site, the capabilities and services of the Falcon 9 range in price from $56.5 million for the baseline Falcon 9, to $77.1 million for the Falcon Heavy, which is capable of transporting up to a 6.4-ton payload to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). For payloads heavier than 6.4-tons, the cost is $135 million.