Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SpaceX to land a rocket like a helicopter - on a platform


If you don’t know by now Elon Musk & SpaceX intend their rockets to be reusable and all that entails, well, they do. AND if you don’t know what exactly is entailed let me explain.


SpaceX hopes to make their rockets fully reusable. Having a reusable booster stage or second stage (both of which are SpaceX’s goal – though the booster goal is within throwing distance) is key especially when the cost of propellant is only about .3 percent of the launch costs but just the Booster is near 70% of the rocket’s cost. This project promises to be a game changer.


You may remember their success with a soft-landing of the Booster following their cargo delivery mission back in April. These ‘soft landings’ are currently done over water but their goal is having the rocket land back at the launch pad.  During the next year it is SpaceX’s intention to try & succeed with the Booster portion - a reusable second stage will likely have to wait five years and the next generation of rockets. The fifth resupply mission planned for December 9th will be the first attempt to land not in the ocean but to land propulsively on a floating platform out at sea. Why at sea? Before they attempt it in an area where any mishap would spell losses, Elon needs to show that they can land time after time on a floating platform at sea. Basically it comes down to if they can make it there then they can make it anywhere. At sea there are many adverse factors that need to be considered. The platform at sea will not be anchored and so if the seas are rough or the engines stir things up that’s one possible problem, the size of the platform – though it is 300 feet long by 170 feet wide, is small when you are a rocket and you don’t want to star things up. The legspan of the rocket is rather large, 60 feet which makes the platform even smaller yet. But once SpaceX has mastered that platform it will seem like a picnic to land at the launch site or wherever they select.


So perhaps landing on a platform out at sea seems small, not newsworthy at all. This like so many issues in the space industry has ties to so many other things. An additional reason for reusability – next in line after saving money would be returning from Mars. As it stands one of the issues facing engineers and scientists is once we send people to Mars then what. Do they have to stay there for life? Will it always be a one-way trip? Or do we pack another spacecraft to take along, packing in addition the extra fuel needed to lift the additional weight up through our atmosphere as well as for the return flight? Better yet, we take a reusable spacecraft much like SpaceX’s.


NASA is watching to see how they fare.


The next generation of spacecraft offers some really cool changes that will allow the second stage to return. One of those changes is a methane-oxygen system in which the propellants are brought close to their freezing temperatures to increase their density and hence capacity.


All this promises to be really cool – get in on it from the start! Watch SpaceX in their next launch on or about December 5th. Pay special attention to when coverage of the attempt might be!


Go to: http://www.spacex.com/

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