Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Despite all the gloom over the cancelling of the American Space Shuttle project, I can't help feeling that we might be finally on the verge of a real space age. Exhibit A:  SpaceX has decided that parachute recoveries are too 20th century and have opted to rocket-assisted landings.

Still need some swooshy fins on the tail, though.

1 comment:

Cthel said...

First up, +10 points for sheer futuristic awesomeness.

On a more serious note, this proposal raises some interesting questions about both their proposal and the economics of the current disposable model.

As far as I can tell, Space X are stating that it is less expensive to launch 2 additional heat shields, a considerable amount of fuel, and 2 lots of landing gear, than it is to build a new rocket system each time. This, even though the Space X rocket will have had to be built to a) withstand atmospheric re-entry and b) be equipped with a sufficiently reliable vertical landing rocket system that you don't need a 1000 mile exclusion zone around the LZ to mitigate the risks from an engine failure.

Plus, the system seems to imply a landing zone a couple of thousand miles downrange, since the first stage is definitely sub-orbital, and so cannot land at the launch site.

As to the choice of rocket landing over parachute, the logical conclusion is that the additional weight and complexity is less expensive than repairing the damage incurred during parachute recovery, as well as the costs of securing a relatively large drop zone, and recovering the hardware from wherever the wind has blown it.

Still, if they can make the engineering work, I can see the possibility that, given sufficient re-uses of the hardware, the proposal could make economic sense.

Now, if only they could arrange for the landing zone to be underneath a retractable swimming pool, or in a hollowed out volcanoe...