The recent remarkable test flight of SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket didn’t impress everyone — in fact, it scared the living shit out of these cows. Cows might have four stomachs and be sacred in some religions, and Walter Bishop may have wanted one to keep him company in the lab, but apparently they’re not jazzed about spaceflight.
Most launches happen in places a bit more removed from nature — in fact, the closest bystanders can get to a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral is four miles. Then again, the Grasshopper isn’t just any rocket.
The Grasshopper is a VTVL RLV. Aren’t up on the acronyms? That means it’s a vertical-takeoff-and-landing reusable launch vehicle, which means exactly what it sounds like it means. It’s 108 feet tall and has a single Merlin 1D engine that can propel it around 800 feet in the air, where it can then move over 300 feet laterally. It doesn’t move particularly quickly for a rocket and it doesn’t rotate, so maneuverability is achieved via gimbaling — its nozzle can pivot to change the vector.
The Grasshopper also lands in its precise takeoff spot, rather than dumping all the goods in the ocean, using four legs as landing gear, much like the Apollo Lunar Lander. Instead of burning through all its fuel getting into the air, the Grasshopper saves some for landing back at the launch pad. SpaceX hopes that, eventually, the rockets it makes could be reusable in a matter of hours, which would greatly reduce the cost of space travel. All of this is great news — if you’re not a nearby cow.
SpaceX built the Grasshopper to resemble the Falcon 9 rocket (or at least the Falcon’s first stage). The Falcon 9 helps launch capsules that deliver supplies to the International Space Station. In fact, SpaceX was the first private company to send a rocket to the ISS. The next iteration of the Grasshopper with include nine engines, ala the Falcon 9. Future Falcon 9 models will be used to carry humans into space.
The new-and-improved version of the Falcon 9 will test launch this Saturday (September 14) and will, among other things, bring Cassiope, Canada’s weather satellite, into orbit. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, is looking to break in the new rocket. And maybe to scare a few more cows along the way. Meanwhile, if the aliens are watching, they should take note that they won’t sneak up on anyone if they make their Earthly debut in a cow pasture. They might be able to scare up some dinner, though.