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.[citation needed]

A Falcon 9 first stage performing a vertical landing
DC-XA landing in 1996

VTVL technologies were developed substantially with small rockets after 2000, in part due to incentive prize competitions like the Lunar Lander Challenge. Successful small VTVL rockets were developed by Masten Space Systems, Armadillo Aerospace, and others.

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.[1] 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. All launches of the Falcon Heavy rocket by SpaceX have included VTVL attempts for the two side boosters on each rocket. SpaceX is also developing a fully reusable rocket named Starship.[2]

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.


  • 1961 Bell Rocket Belt, personal VTVL rocket belt demonstrated.[3]
  • VTVL rocket concepts were studied by Philip Bono of Douglas Aircraft Co. in the 1960s.[4]
  • Apollo Lunar Module was a 1960s two-stage VTVL vehicle for landing and taking off from the Moon.
  • Australia's Defence Science and Technology Group successfully launches the Hoveroc rocket on 2 May 1981 in a test at Port Wakefield, South Australia.[5] It was capable of "a controlled flight path within a horizontal plane and terminating, if needed, in a controlled descent."[6]
  • The Soviet Union did some development work on, but never flew, a vertically landing crewed capsule called Zarya in the late 1980s.[7]
  • The McDonnell Douglas DC-X was a 1/3 scale uncrewed prototype SSTO VTVL launch vehicle that flew several successfully test flights in the 1990s. Its first successful flight was in 1993. In June 1996, the vehicle set an altitude record of 3,140 metres (10,300 ft), before making a vertical landing.[8]
  • 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 was announced.[9]
  • 2005 Blue Origin Charon a jet engine propelled test vehicle verified the autonomous guidance and control technologies later used in Blue Origins VTVL rockets.[10]
  • 2006, 2007 Blue Origin Goddard a subscale demonstrator for the later New Shephard suborbital vehicle, made 3 successful flights before retirement.[11]
  • During 2006–2009, Armadillo Aerospace's Scorpius / Super Mod, Masten Space Systems' Xombie and Unreasonable Rocket's Blue Ball flying VTVL rockets competed in the Northrop Grumman / NASA Lunar Lander Challenge. Follow-on VTVL designs including Masten's Xaero and Armadillo's Stig were aimed at higher-speed flight to higher suborbital altitudes.[12]
  • SpaceX announced plans in 2010 to eventually install deployable landing gear on the Dragon spacecraft and use the vehicle's thrusters to perform a land-based landing.[13] It was cancelled in 2017.[14]
  • In 2010, three VTVL craft were proffered to NASA in response to NASA's suborbital reusable launch vehicle (sRLV) solicitation under NASA's Flight Operations Program: the Blue Origin New Shepard, the Masten Xaero, and the Armadillo Super Mod.[15]
  • Morpheus is a 2010s NASA project developing a vertical test bed that demonstrates new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology.[16]
  • Mighty Eagle was an early 2010s Robotic Prototype Lander that was being developed by NASA as of August 2012.[17]
A Falcon 9 first stage landing on 21 December 2015 after boosting commercial satellites to low Earth orbit

Vertical landing technologyEdit

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 less 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.

It can also be necessary to be able to ignite engines in a variety of conditions potentially including vacuum, hypersonic, supersonic, transonic, and subsonic.[40]

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.[41]

Popular cultureEdit

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."[42] In the 2010s, SpaceX rockets have likewise seen the appellation to this popular culture notion of Buck Rogers in a "Quest to Create a 'Buck Rogers' Reusable Rocket."[43][44]

The Young Sheldon episode, "A Patch, a Modem, and a Zantac®" features Sheldon Cooper developing the equations for VTVL in the 1980s, only to have them rejected by NASA for lack of the technical capability to implement it at that time. Sheldon concludes that he is ahead of his time. A flashforward to 2016 shows the successful SpaceX CRS-8 mission, followed by SpaceX founder Elon Musk looking over Sheldon's old notebook then hiding it in a desk drawer.[45][46][47][48]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ February 2016, Elizabeth Howell 06. "SpaceX's Grasshopper: Reusable Rocket Prototype". Space.com. Archived from the original on 2021-01-16. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  2. ^ "SpaceX". SpaceX. Archived from the original on 2011-03-07. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  3. ^ "Most Comprehensive Website on Rocket Belts and Jet Belts". rocketbelts.americanrocketman.com. Archived from the original on 2019-02-02. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  4. ^ Wade, Mark. "OOST". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  5. ^ Crozier, Mal (2013). Nulka: A compelling story (PDF). Canberra: Defence Science and Technology Organisation. pp. 40–41. ISBN 9780987544704. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-02-25. Retrieved 2021-03-19.
  6. ^ US 4562980, Deans, Arnold L.; Smith, Alan J. & Crozier, Malcolm J., "Rocket vehicle", published 1986-01-07, assigned to The Commonwealth of Australia 
  7. ^ Zak, Anatoly (2009-04-29). "Russia mulls rocket power 'first'". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2011-04-24. Retrieved 2011-10-11. RKK Energia, ... in the 1980s ... worked on a highly classified project to develop a large crewed capsule, called Zarya ("Dawn"), for a wide range of civilian and military missions.
  8. ^ Klerkx, Greg: Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age, page 104. Secker & Warburg, 2004
  9. ^ "Cosmic Log: June 11-17, 2005". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2021-05-26. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  10. ^ Blue Origin Charon Test Vehicle Archived 2020-11-11 at the Wayback Machine, Museum of Flight
  11. ^ Goddard Archived 2021-05-15 at the Wayback Machine, Gunter's Space Page
  12. ^ X Prize Foundation. "2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X CHALLENGE". X Prize Foundation. Archived from the original on October 29, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  13. ^ "Dragon Drop Test – August 20, 2010". Spacex.com. 2010-08-20. Archived from the original on 2013-07-27. Retrieved 2010-12-14.
  14. ^ "SpaceX skipping Red Dragon for "vastly bigger ships" on Mars, Musk confirms". Teslarati. Archived from the original on 2021-05-26. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  15. ^ [needs update]"sRLV platforms compared". NASA. 2011-03-07. Archived from the original on 2021-02-20. Retrieved 2011-03-10. New Shepard which was made by the "Blue Origin"(founded by Jeff Bezos): Type: VTVL/Unpiloted ... Super Mod: Type: VTVL/Unpiloted ... Xaero: Type: VTVL/Unpiloted
  16. ^ Bibby, Joe. "Project Morpheus". NASA. Archived from the original on August 29, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  17. ^ "NASA's 'Mighty Eagle' Robotic Prototype Lander Flies Again at Marshall". NASA. Archived from the original on September 16, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  18. ^ "Elon Musk says SpaceX will attempt to develop fully reusable space launch vehicle". Washington Post. 2011-09-29. Archived from the original on 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2011-10-11. Both of the rocket's stages would return to the launch site and touch down vertically, under rocket power, on landing gear after delivering a spacecraft to orbit.
  19. ^ Wall, Mike (2011-09-30). "SpaceX Unveils Plan for World's First Fully Reusable Rocket". SPACE.com. Archived from the original on 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2011-10-11.
  20. ^ "Reusable rocket prototype almost ready for first liftoff". Spaceflight Now. 2012-07-09. Archived from the original on 2013-05-21. Retrieved 2012-07-13. SpaceX has constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility in McGregor, and the Grasshopper rocket is already standing on the pad, outfitted with four insect-like silver landing legs.
  21. ^ "Grasshopper Completes Highest Leap to Date". SpaceX.com. 10 March 2013. Archived from the original on 29 April 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  22. ^ The Grasshopper prototype test vehicle has been retired. "Grasshopper flies to its highest height to date". Social media information release. SpaceX. 12 October 2013. Archived from the original on 17 January 2016. Retrieved 14 October 2013. WATCH: Grasshopper flies to its highest height to date – 744 m (2441 ft) into the Texas sky. http://youtu.be/9ZDkItO-0a4 This was the last scheduled test for the Grasshopper rig; next up will be low altitude tests of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle in Texas followed by high altitude testing in New Mexico.
  23. ^ James, Michael; Salton, Alexandria; Downing, Micah (November 12, 2013). "Draft Environmental Assessment for Issuing an Experimental Permit to SpaceX for Operation of the Dragon Fly Vehicle at the McGregor Test Site, Texas, May 2014 – Appendices" (PDF). Blue Ridge Research and Consulting, LCC. p. 12. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  24. ^ WordsmithFL (2017-07-19), Elon Musk, ISS R&D Conference, July 19, 2017, archived from the original on 2021-08-13, retrieved 2018-08-02
  25. ^ Norris, Guy (2014-04-28). "SpaceX Plans For Multiple Reusable Booster Tests: Controlled water landing marks a major stride toward SpaceX's Falcon rapid-reusability goal". Aviation Week. Archived from the original on 2014-04-26. Retrieved 2014-04-26. The April 17 F9R Dev 1 flight, which lasted under 1 min., was the first vertical landing test of a production-representative recoverable Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage, while the April 18 cargo flight to the ISS was the first opportunity for SpaceX to evaluate the design of foldable landing legs and upgraded thrusters that control the stage during its initial descent.
  26. ^ "Blue Origin make historic rocket landing." Archived 2015-11-25 at the Wayback Machine Blue Origin, November 24, 2015. Retrieved: November 24, 2015.
  27. ^ @SpaceX (22 December 2015). "The Falcon 9 first stage landing is confirmed. Second stage continuing nominally" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  28. ^ SpaceX [@SpaceX] (8 April 2016). "Landing from the chase plane" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  29. ^ Dumont, E; Ishimoto, S; Tatiossian, P (June 2019), "CALLISTO: a Demonstrator for Reusable Launcher Key Technologies", 32nd ISTS, Fukui, Japan., 19 (1): 106, Bibcode:2021JSAST..19..106D, doi:10.2322/tastj.19.106, S2CID 209770790, archived from the original on 2020-10-30, retrieved 2020-10-27
  30. ^ "Chinese space company Linkspace takes step towards reusable rocket with landing test". Archived from the original on 2018-02-09. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  31. ^ Grush, Loren (February 6, 2018). "SpaceX launches its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time". The Verge. Archived from the original on February 9, 2018. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  32. ^ "Isro focuses on vertical landing capability – Times of India". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 2018-12-28. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  33. ^ a b Baylor, Michael (27 August 2019). "SpaceX's Starhopper completes 150 meter test hop". NASASpaceFlight. Archived from the original on 2 December 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  34. ^ Burghardt, Thomas (25 July 2019). "Starhopper successfully conducts debut Boca Chica Hop". NASASpaceFlight.com. Archived from the original on 26 July 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  35. ^ Murphy, Mike (10 January 2019). "Elon Musk shows off SpaceX's massive Starship test rocket". MarketWatch. Archived from the original on 12 January 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  36. ^ Chang, Kenneth; Roston, Michael (2021-05-05). "SpaceX Successfully Lands Prototype of Mars and Moon Rocket After Test Flight". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2021-05-05. Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  37. ^ Ralph, Eric (4 August 2020). "SpaceX Starship leaps towards Mars with picture-perfect hop debut". Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  38. ^ Chang, Kenneth (2021-03-03). "SpaceX Mars Rocket Prototype Explodes, but This Time It Lands First". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2021-06-05. Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  39. ^ Foust, Jeff (20 July 2021). "Blue Origin launches Bezos on first crewed New Shepard flight". SpaceNews. Retrieved 20 Jul 2021.
  40. ^ Belfiore, Michael (September 30, 2013). "Musk: SpaceX Now Has "All the Pieces" For Truly Reusable Rockets". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
  41. ^ "Reusable rockets cheaper." Archived 2015-11-25 at the Wayback Machine ZME Science, August 20, 2015. Retrieved: November 24, 2015.
  42. ^ "Restoration Center Open House Highlights". New Mexico Museum of Space History. 2013-02-12. Archived from the original on 2014-03-24. Retrieved 2014-03-24. The DC-X launched vertically, hovered in mid-air at 150 feet, and began to move sideways at a dogtrot. After traveling 350 feet, the onboard global-positioning satellite unit indicated that the DC-X was directly over its landing point. The spacecraft stopped mid-air again and, as the engines throttled back, began its successful vertical landing. Just like Buck Rogers.
  43. ^ "SpaceX Continues its Quest to Create a "Buck Rogers" Reusable Rocket". 21st Century Tech. 2013-03-15. Archived from the original on 2014-03-24. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
  44. ^ Elon Musk, Scott Pelley (2014-03-30). Tesla and SpaceX: Elon Musk's industrial empire (video and transcript). CBS. Event occurs at 03:50–04:10. Retrieved 2014-03-31. Only four entities have launched a space capsule into orbit and successfully brought it back: the United States, Russia, China, and Elon Musk. This Buck Rogers dream started years ago...
  45. ^ Dayani, Aahil (April 1, 2022). "The Young Sheldon Episode You Likely Forgot Starred Elon Musk - Looper". Looper.com.
  46. ^ "Young Sheldon: 5 Of Sheldon's Best Episodes (& 5 Of His Worst)". ScreenRant. August 18, 2021.
  47. ^ Wurzburger, Andrea (May 8, 2021). "Ahead of His Saturday Night Live Appearance: Elon Musk's Acting Cameos Through the Years". PEOPLE.com.
  48. ^ Whittington, Mark (December 1, 2017). "How 'Young Sheldon' solved the problem of reusing rocket". Blasting News.
  49. ^ Anderson, Erik (July 1997). "Kankoh-maru Flight Manual". Space Future. Archived from the original on 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2012-08-04.

External linksEdit

  • Astronautix.com – List of VTVL rocket concepts from the past
  • Hobbyspace.com – Development of VTVL rockets around the world