Vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) is a form of takeoff and landing for rockets. Multiple VTVL craft have flown. The most widely known and commercially successful VTVL rocket is SpaceX's Falcon 9 first stage.
Starting in the mid 2010s, VTVL was under intense development as a technology for reusable rockets large enough to transport people. In 2013, SpaceX demonstrated vertical landing on a Falcon 9 prototype after climbing 744 meters in the air. Later, Blue Origin (New Shepard) and SpaceX (Falcon 9), both demonstrated recovery of launch vehicles after return to the launch site (RTLS) operations, with Blue Origin's New Shepard booster rocket making the first successful vertical landing on November 23, 2015 following a flight that reached outer space, and SpaceX's Falcon 9 flight 20 marking the first landing of a commercial orbital booster roughly a month later, on December 22, 2015.
VTVL rockets are not to be confused with aircraft which take off and land vertically which use the air for support and propulsion, such as helicopters and jump jets which are VTOL aircraft.
VTVL rocket concepts were studied by Philip Bono of Douglas Aircraft Co. in the 1960s.
Apollo Lunar Module was a 1960s two-stage VTVL vehicle for landing and taking off from the moon.
The Soviet Union did some development work on, but never flew, a vertically-landing manned capsule called Zarya in the late 1980s.
The McDonnell Douglas DC-X was an unmanned prototype VTVL launch vehicle that flew several successfully test flights in the 1990s. In June 1996, the vehicle set an altitude record of 3,140 metres (10,300 ft), before making a vertical landing.
Rotary Rocket successfully tested a vertical landing system for their Roton design, based around a rocket tipped helicopter system in 1999, but were unable to raise funds to build a full vehicle.
June 13, 2005 Blue Origin VTVL Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle announced
2005 Blue Origin Charon a jet engine propelled test vehicle verified the autonomous guidance and control technologies later used in Blue Origins VTVL rockets.
2006, 2007 Blue Origin Goddard a subscale demonstrator for the later New Shephard suborbital vehicle, made 3 successful flights before retirement.
2012: SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket was a VTVL first-stage booster test vehicle developed to validate various low-altitude, low-velocity engineering aspects of its large-vehicle reusable rocket technology. The test vehicle made eight successful test flights in 2012–2013. Grasshopper v1.0 made its eighth, and final, test flight on October 7, 2013, flying to an altitude of 744 metres (2,441 ft) (0.46 miles) before making its eighth successful VTVL landing.
In 2018, ISRO revealed details about the ADMIRE test vehicle for which a test and landing site was being developed. The vehicle will have supersonic retro propulsion, special retractable landing legs which will act as steerable grid fins & will be guided by integrated navigation system that will have a laser altimeter and a NavIC receiver.
On August 2020, SpaceX began testing its Starship prototypes. SN5 and SN6 both made successful VTVL launch and landings while SN8, SN9 , and SN10 were each destroyed due to landing failure.
Vertical landing technology
The technology required to successfully achieve retropropulsive landings—the vertical landing or "VL" addition to the standard vertical takeoff (VT) technology of the early decades of human spaceflight—has several parts. First, thrust must be greater than weight, second the thrust is normally required to be vectored and requires some degree of throttling. Guidance must be capable of calculating the position and altitude of the vehicle, small deviations from the vertical can cause large deviations of the vehicles horizontal position. RCS systems are usually required to keep the vehicle at the correct angle.
SpaceX also use grid fins for attitude control during landing of their Falcon 9 boosters.
The additional weight of fuel, larger tank, landing legs and their deployment mechanisms will usually reduce the performance of a soft landing system compared to expendable vehicles, all other things being equal.
The main benefit of the technology is seen in the potential for substantial reductions in space flight costs as a result of being able to reuse rockets after successful VTVL landings.
Vertical landing rocket depicted in 1951 comic Rocket Ship X
Vertical landing of spaceships was the predominant mode of rocket landing envisioned in the pre-spaceflight era. Many science fiction authors as well as depictions in popular culture showed rockets landing vertically, typically resting after landing on the space vehicle's fins. This view was sufficiently ingrained in popular culture that in 1993, following a successful low-altitude test flight of a prototype rocket, a writer opined: "The DC-X launched vertically, hovered in mid-air ... The spacecraft stopped mid-air again and, as the engines throttled back, began its successful vertical landing. Just like Buck Rogers."
In the 2010s, SpaceXrockets have likewise seen the appellation to this popular culture notion of Buck Rogers in a "Quest to Create a 'Buck Rogers' Reusable Rocket."
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Astronautix.com – List of VTVL rocket concepts from the past
Hobbyspace.com – Development of VTVL rockets around the world