No Big Deal: It's Just a Drone Filming a Rocket

Two experimental flight vehicles. One crazy video.

In the brief (90 second!) video above, a rocket, funded by billionaire Elon Musk, takes off, reaches a height of some 744 meters, then it begins to fall. And that’s when the coolness occurs.

First, the rocket controls its descent to Earth. It lands, vertically, fewer than 90 seconds after it took off. What it does can barely even be called falling: It more reverses direction, mid-air.

The rocket is called a Grasshopper, and it was developed by SpaceX, the space start-up owned and founded by Musk. Space-bound rockets, historically, have been designed to be either disposable (they burn up in the atmosphere) or dully recoverable (they crash in the ocean, where a ship can find them). The Grasshopper tries to land vertically after taking off vertically, thus making, in theory, the cost of launching it much lower. (You don’t have to buy a new rocket with every take-off—or rent a vacant battleship.)

Second, this video was totally filmed by a drone! A drone! The tell-tale signs: The stability of the shot, the proximity of the shot to the white shaft of fiery peril, and the, uh, occasionally visible rotor blades. It’s hard to imagine a helicopter-riding human being able to get a shot like this.

So this is an experimental rocket, funded by an eccentric techno-billionaire, filmed by a drone. As a friend put it, how very 2013.

The Grasshopper, by the way, is a Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing-style vehicle (VTVL), and, while unusual, it’s not nearly the first of its type. Most jetpacks are famously VTVL. The best-known VTVL vehicle is the Apollo Lunar Module which landed on and took off from the surface of the moon—vertically.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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