An experimental reusable rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, soared to a record 263 feet (80 meters) before landing itself on its launch pad, company founder and chief executive Elon Musk said at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin this weekend.
In keeping with the film, music and digital interests of his audience, Musk unveiled a new video of the rocket, known as “Grasshopper” which made its fourth and latest leap on Thursday.
Against a musical backdrop of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” the video showed the 100-foot tall Grasshopper rocket blasting off from the company’s MacGregor, Texas, test facility, climbing into the sky, hovering about 34 seconds and then landing on its launch pad.
Grasshopper’s previous record altitude, set in December, was 131 feet (40 meters) — roughly half as high, said company spokeswoman Christina Ra.
“If we can’t make rockets reusable, the cost is just prohibitive,” said Musk, a keynote SXSW speaker Saturday afternoon.
“The cost of the fuel and oxidizer on a Falcon 9 (SpaceX rocket) is 0.3 percent of the cost of the rocket, so it’s basically a very tiny number, similar to an airplane.
“How much does it cost to fuel an airplane and how much does it cost to buy an airplane? They’ve very different things,” Musk said.
“If humanity is ever to expand beyond Earth and have a self-sustaining base on another planet, it’s critical that we solve this problem,” he added.
Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, a Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.