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SpaceX uses drone to capture footage of hovering Grasshopper rocket

July 08, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan

SpaceX, the Hawthorne company that builds rockets and space capsules to resupply the International Space Station for NASA, has been testing a new reusable 10-story rocket out at its facilities in McGregor, Texas.

It’s a little strange to see a rocket fire up its engines, blast off, and then hover in the air -- outside of a science fiction movie.

Each time they go a little higher with the 10-story Grasshopper rocket, and it’s impressive footage.

During the latest flight on June 16, the rocket blasted off, rose 1066 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad.  

At that height, the rocket flew higher than the U.S. Bank Tower, tallest building in Los Angeles.

“Previous Grasshopper tests relied on the other rocket sensors but for this test, an additional, higher accuracy sensor was in the control loop,” SpaceX said in a statement along with the video. “In other words, SpaceX was directly controlling the vehicle based on new sensor readings, adding a new level of accuracy in sensing the distance between Grasshopper and the ground, enabling a more precise landing.”

In the Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are aiming to develop a rocket that can return to a launchpad for a vertical landing, instead of burning up upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

For months, the company has been completing a series of successful, low-altitude tests of the test vehicle in Texas with plans to move testing to a commercial spaceport New Mexico at a later date.

For SpaceX, a reusable system could mean big savings in developing and operating rockets. The closest example of a reusable launch system is the retired space shuttle fleet, spacecraft that were only partially reused after a tedious months-long overhaul.

Founded in 2002, SpaceX makes its cargo capsules and rockets at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that was once used to assemble fuselage sections for Boeing 747s.

The company has successfully carried out two cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA. It is the only commercial company to do so.

Video of the test can be seen above. SpaceX used a small drone to film the flight, which captured all the footage from above. The company has used the robotic aircraft a few times now, but this is the first time it has shown footage exclusively from this camera.

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