The rocket burst into the air, zipped up to 10,300 feet, moved sideways, then landed standing up - all in just over two minutes Saturday.
It was the third successful test flight for the Clipper Graham, a 42-foot-tall reusable prototype that may eventually replace the space shuttle.
“We’re rocking and rolling,” said Pete Conrad, a former Apollo astronaut and the Clipper’s flight manager for McDonnell Douglas Corp., which is developing the rocket.
The unmanned rocket ascended at 300 feet per second, moved laterally 550 feet and then back toward the launch site for 200 feet before descending to its landing pad at this south-central New Mexico test range.
The craft also flew Friday morning, completing the first part of a two-phase test intended to show that it was not only reusable, but could return to the air with only a minimum amount of downtime.
Friday’s 63.6-second flight took the rocket to an altitude of nearly 2,000 feet.
Scientists had hoped to launch the second flight on Friday as well. However, project officials postponed the second phase until Saturday because of thunderstorms approaching the launch area.
The rocket is an upgraded model of the Delta Clipper, the first rocket to ever launch and land vertically on Earth. Delta Clipper tests have been under way at this missile range since August 1993.
The Clipper is part of a program by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop reusable launch vehicles to carry payloads, such as satellites, into orbit.
The Clipper Graham is expected to complete two more test flights by mid-July.
Information gathered from the Clipper Graham and Delta Clipper tests will be applied to another NASA rocket to be developed, the X-33, which is roughly twice as tall as the Clipper and will be used for test flights expected to reach near orbital altitudes.