Thursday, August 15, 2013
On August 13th, the Falcon 9 test rig (code name Grasshopper) completed a divert test, flying to a 250m altitude with a 100m lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. The test demonstrated the vehicle's ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.
Grasshopper is taller than a ten story building, which makes the control problem particularly challenging. Diverts like this are an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.
There is something extremely unsettling about watching a giant rocket lift off, hover, float around a while, and then slowly go back down. It is actually a bit terrifying, perhaps because one associates it with so many other large rockets that universally exploded after such a move?