Elon Musk Plans Falcon 9 Upper Stage Recovery With 'Giant Party Balloon'

James Marshall
April 16, 2018

The Falcon 9 rocket is set to take off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during a 30-second launch window at 6:32 p.m., Monday. It demands some of the brightest minds in the field and some hefty funding.

After the launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage booster on its drone ship off the coast. 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.

Upper stages of launch vehicles are a significant source of space debris, remaining in orbit in a non-operational state for many years after use. For every part of a rocket that can be recovered and refurbished for future use, there is room to lower costs.

The idea certainly does sound insane enough for SpaceX to actually try, but it may not be quite as absurd as it initially sounds.

While Musk has admitted he knows the plan sounds "crazy", he hasn't shed more light on the subject, only noting that a balloon would drop the stage's ballistic coefficient - the ability to overcome air resistance during flight - and preserve its shape while travelling at different speeds. As PCMag reported, the task requires landing engines, heat shield, and other equipment, which, in theory, might increase the mass of the stage and spoil the whole recovery attempt.

Controlling where the rocket would drop in the ocean would be handled with retro burns and SpaceX would deploy a "catcher ship" to the location in order to retrieve the rocket quickly. If his company can land two first stages of Falcon Heavy in flawless sync, this might also be accomplished, no matter how weird or insane it may sound.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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