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The SpaceX Grasshopper is a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket announced in 2011 for low-altitude testing that began in 2012. It is being developed and tested by SpaceX to assist development of the reusable Falcon 9 rocket, which will require vertical landings of the near-empty Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first-stage tanks and engine assemblies.

Two versions of the Grasshopper test vehicle are under development. When Grasshopper was first disclosed in September 2011, the rocket was described to consist of “a Falcon 9 first stage tank, a single Merlin-1D engine, four steel landing legs and a support structure, plus other pressurization tanks attached to the support structure” and will stand at 106 feet (32 m) tall. Photos released in September 2012 reveal the test article landing gear to be considerably more sophisticated, with the tank and rocket engine as previously described.

Beginning in October 2012, SpaceX discussed development of a second generation Grasshopper test VTVL vehicle, one that would have lighter-weight landing legs that fold up on the side of the rocket, would have a different engine bay and would be nearly 50% longer than the first Grasshopper vehicle.

Illustration: Stanley Von Medvey

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