A rocket that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) has long been a staple of science fiction but private spacefaring company SpaceX, which has been contracted to run cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS), is making strides towards turning a vertically-landing rocket into a reality. If successful SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket, which has recently demonstrated its best VTOL flight, could have pleasant consequences for the space tourism industry.
Getting a rocket to perform a vertical takeoff and then land, also vertically, has typically been challenging which is why almost every orbital rocket re-entry has been designed to splash down somewhere in a form of controlled crash. The Grasshopper, which consists of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first-stage rockets, has shown that a VTOL rocket could become a reality by launching, hovering at a height of 80 meters and then touching down in the same spot that it took off after around 34 seconds.
VTOL rockets could drive the space tourism industry by allowing launch pads to be built in almost any location, while accurate lift-offs and touch-downs would assist in increasing the number of spacecraft sent into space. In time this may translate into ubiquitous orbital travel, providing a starting-point for longer, privately-funded manned missions into space.
Below is SpaceX’s multi-angle video of the latest Grasshopper launch and return to Earth.