SpaceX seeks to recover upper stage of rockets using "giant party balloon"

By Greg S
Apr 16, 2018
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  1. SpaceX's primary reason for existence is lowering the cost of launching satellites and supplies beyond Earth's atmosphere. For every part of a rocket that can be recovered and refurbished for future use, there is room to lower costs. In a string of Tweets from Elon Musk, it has been made public that SpaceX is going to try and bring the upper stages of rockets safely back to Earth.

    Once a rocket achieves orbital velocity, dropping sections back down to Earth is already a big enough challenge. In true fashion of the flashy stunts that SpaceX has pulled in the past, Musk states that SpaceX will use a "giant party balloon" to help recover the upper portion of its rockets.

    The idea certainly does sound crazy enough for SpaceX to actually try, but it may not be quite as absurd as it initially sounds. Large balloons can act much like parachutes while also providing lift that can allow for more controlled landings. As for Musk's comments about landing rocket parts on a bouncy house, it's possible that he is just making a joke, but a floating barge with soft surface is not out of the realm of possibility.

    In a follow up comment, Musk replied to explain why a balloon could actually be a viable option. It turns out that the shape of a balloon keeps many of its aerodynamic properties regardless of how fast a rocket may be falling back to Earth's surface.

    Until further testing is conducted, we won't know for sure what SpaceX is exactly planning, but it is certain that there will be some interesting recovery efforts being made.

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  2. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 834   +413

    The "bounce house" probably refers to that giant net they have - pictures of it surfaced online a few months ago.

    The balloon works because it will always deform to its most aerodynamically stable shape for its given environment. It will maintain a wide cross-sectional area normal to the trajectory of flight. Pressure increases will decrease its cross-sectional area, which will allow it to fall faster. Faster falling velocities will create more powerful back drafts behind the balloon, slowing the decent. Thus, and equilibrium is established, and passively controlled to be its most efficient by the environment itself.

    The trick will be stabilizing the load beneath the balloon throughout the descent, as well as the balloon itself. Vertical motion parallel to the trajectory may be well constrained, but lateral motion across the trajectory will not be.
     
    Tanstar likes this.
  3. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 3,752   +2,289

    Yeah, all of that is good but will they come in assorted colors? :)
     
    Tanstar likes this.
  4. DaveBG

    DaveBG TS Maniac Posts: 324   +109

    NO. Its rocket science. Nothing is left to chance!
     

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