SpaceX, the space transport company founded by former PayPal founder Elon Musk, just carried out its most successful test yet of it's "Grasshopper" vertical take-off and landing system. In a short flight earlier this week, the rocket rose 250m in the air, hovered, and then returned to the ground:
The system is a testbed for one of SpaceX's broader goals, developing "fully and rapidly" reusable rockets. Current generation launch vehicles are comprised of several stages, the majority of which either burn up in the atmosphere after use, or, at best, splash down in the ocean where they much be collected and repaired at great expense.
If the Grasshopper system – which consists of a modified version of the first stage tank of the company's flagship Falcon 9 rocket, the first private vehicle to visit the International Space Station – scales up, it would allow the company to reuse rockets with little delay. That's a crucial element to almost every plan for making fully private space travel economical, but there's still a long way to go.