SpaceX Grasshopper reusable test bed makes first short hop

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SpaceX's Grasshopper reusable rocket test bed has made an initial hop at the company's McGregor, Texas engine test site.

The hop, on or about 21 September, lasted less than 1sec but begins the official flight test regime, According to documents filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, the flight test period will consist of dozens of flights, increasing in altitude and speed.

The vehicle is essentially a fuel tank from the company's standard Falcon 9 launch vehicle, powered by a reusable Merlin 1D rocket engine fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen and attached to a system of struts.

Grasshopper is capable of greater altitudes than the 11,500 approved by the FAA, but SpaceX has not disclosed the exact parameters, nor has the US government yet granted permission for such flights.

Grasshopper is a test bed for reusable technology, primarily reusable engine systems and guidance. An inexpensive reusable first stage has long been considered a holy grail for launch vehicle builders. While several reusable test beds and prototypes have surpassed Grasshopper's current flight test status, none besides the US space shuttle have made repeated trips into space.

SpaceX has repeatedly stated its intent to develop an operational reusable launch vehicle based on the Falcon 9. SpaceX CEO and chief technologist Elon Musk has characterized building a reusable launch vehicle as "super damn hard".

SpaceX was unavailable for comment following the flight test.