SpaceX to build reusable suborbital craft

Washington DC
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SpaceX will begin flight testing of a reusable suborbital vehicle called 'Grasshopper' from its McGregor, Texas facility.

The Grasshopper will use the company's Merlin 1-D engine, adapted from the company's Falcon 9 rocket program. The FAA report states that Grasshopper will have 55,300kg (122,000lb) of thrust and carry 3,100kg (6,900lb) of RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx) fuel. The majority of the fuel onboard, the report says, will be unburned, used as ballast.

SpaceX is requesting FAA approval to fly Grasshopper to a maximum of 11,500ft before returning vertically to a specially-built launch pad. Up to 70 launches per year are anticipated, with a three year test program.

The first flights, according to the report, would top out at 240ft, landing after 45s of flight. SpaceX then plans to incrementally increase the test flight altitude and duration, topping off at 11,500ft and 160s. Additional permits are required to test above 12,000ft. SpaceX was not available for immediate comment.

The new craft was revealed in a public draft of a mandatory FAA environmental review. US environmental law requires aerospace companies to seek a permit before new launches; a draft is released for public comment before issuance.

The report also mentions that SpaceX currently conducts five tests of the Merlin engine on an average week, and six tests per year of the full first stage, which contains nine Merlin rockets.

Though a draft, there appear to be no special environmental issues that would prevent FAA approval.