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SpaceX's Future Rocket Tech Takes Off

3...2...1...and lift-off! And then hover...aaaaand land again.

SpaceX's Future Rocket Tech Takes Off

SpaceX's Dragon space capsule may have successfully latched on to the International Space Station and is even now whirling over our heads at thousands of miles an hour, but that doesn't mean the company has diverted attention away from its rocketing future. Elon Musk's private space company has just revealed information about a successful test flight of its Grasshopper rocket, which took place last week. Unlike the boom and thunder and headline-grabbing antics of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon, Grasshopper's an altogether weirder rocketship: It can hover.

Grasshopper's latest and most successful test fight took it to a maximum altitude of just 80 meters, but when it reached that height after lift-off it did something few other rockets can do and just hovered there on its engine power for just over 30 seconds before landing gently back on its launch pad. The vehicle is a research prototype which will be used to design future SpaceX rocket stages that will be able to fly back down out of the atmosphere and land safely so they can be reused. This is a trick that's not used in the Falcon 9 nor any of SpaceX's peers, and it may ultimately result in reduced launch costs for SpaceX's customers—who are already getting a very cheap deal.

Does the exciting commercial spaceflight future make you wish you were an astronaut? A space tourist? Will it excite kids into studying science as much as NASA's big-ticket missions?