LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has retired its Grasshopper prototype, a 10-story, first-stage Falcon 9 rocket the Hawthorne, Calif., company used to develop and test vertical landing technologies.
In its place, SpaceX plans a December debut of a new test rig, known as Falcon 9R, and a new test site at Spaceport America in New Mexico, said Gwynne Shotwell, company president and chief operating officer.
On its final flight on Oct. 7, Grasshopper reached 744 meters — its highest altitude yet — before landing back on its launch pad in McGregor, Texas.
The upgraded prototype will have nine Merlin 1D engines compared with Grasshopper’s single motor, bringing the company closer to its long-term goal of developing reusable rockets.
As part of that effort, the first launch of SpaceX’s upgraded Falcon 9 rocket on Sept. 29 included a restart of the spent first stage to slow its descent before splashdown.
The first of two planned burns was successful, but during the second restart the rocket was spinning, choking off the flow of fuel. A photograph released Oct. 16 showed the Falcon booster was intact about 3 meters above the ocean.
“It didn’t remain intact after it hit the ocean, but it was intact. I don’t think anyone has ever done that,” Shotwell said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M.
“Between the flights we’ve been doing with Grasshopper and this demonstration that we brought that stage back, we’re really close to full and rapid reuse of stages,” Shotwell said.