October 04, 2011

Look Ma! No Parachutes!

One of the Brickmuppets Crack Team of Science Matangos  brings us some intriguing news from the manned space field.

Space-X, which has designed and built a number of successful rockets, and is currently testing a manned spacecraft, is now looking to make the whole kit and kaboodle re-useable!

Space-X is looking at this from a business standpoint and they have been toying with recovery of some components using parachutes and water recovery. However, as New Scientist explains, that was a non-starter.

...The only problem was, it didn't work. At the Space Access conference in April, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president, admitted: "We have recovered pieces of the first stages." The first stages weren't even getting as far as deploying their parachutes – they were breaking up during atmospheric re-entry...

After that they went back to the drawing board. Now they have come up with a suborbital test rig called "Grasshopper". Although its flight frofile will be reminiscent of the old DC-X, its just a modified Falcon 9 first stage...which is rather the point of the tests. The hope to launch and land the thing 70 times in a year from their facility in McGregor Texas. If these are successful? Well then.....

Good Choice of BGM

Scott Lowther, who, unlike me, is an aerospace engineer, comments.

...it looks reasonably practical, with a minimum of ridiculocity… no wings, scramjets or need for advanced materials. The basic concept is more than forty years old, going back to not only Phil Bono’s Saturn S-IVB stage recoverability concepts, but even further to Chrysler Mercury-Redstone  recoverability concepts. Ditching parachutes entirely is a ballsy move, but if your rockets are sufficiently reliable – maybe Xcor rockets on the capsule – then chutes aren’t needed.

It is different. To my layman's eye the second stage recovery seems a bit more iffy simply because it will need a lot of heat shielding. OTOH it will be almost empty so perhaps its low sectional density will sufficiently assist. Even if that is a failure (and people with more Letters than me are signing off on this)  economical reuseability of the first stage and the spacecraft itself is a very big deal.

In other space news China has launched its first space station successfully.

Strange choice of BGM

Dutch Formula One Tycoon Michiel Mol has teamed up with Dutch Airline KLM as well as XCOR Aerospace to put together a suborbital space tour operating out of the Dutch island of Curacao in the Caribbean. They will be using XCOR's  Lynx spacecraft. Mol and KLM also have more ambitious suborbital plans.

Today was the 54th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik by the USSR. While an admirable and historic achievement, one thing that historians tend not to stress is that it proved to all the world that a nation that had murdered millions of its own citizens and defined peace as an absence of opposition to world communism could in theory then place an atomic warhead anywhere in the world. 
OTOH it was humanities first step into space...so Yay! Sputnik!

Rand Simberg has thoughts and reflections.

Science 'Matango' is, of course, Ritzu from K-on!

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 11:27 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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