SpaceX could soon use a ‘giant party balloon’ and a bouncy house to retrieve the upper stage of a Falcon 9 rocket if billionaire Elon Musk has his way.
In a series of tweets, the SpaceX boss described how the firm might use the novel technique to recover the upper stage — a crucial component of the rocket that carries a payload into orbit.
If it were anyone else, the idea might be dismissed, but as many Twitter users have pointed out, Musk has been known to transform some pretty crazy ideas into reality.
In a series of tweets, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described how the firm could retrieve a rocket’s upper stage using a ‘giant party balloon’ and then land it on a bouncy house
On Twitter, Musk proposed the idea of sending his cherry red Tesla Roadster into space aboard the Falcon Heavy megarocket — an idea that many took as a joke before he made it happen in February.
Musk gave few details about how or when SpaceX might attempt to use a big balloon to recover an upper stage.
But he did say the balloon would likely be a low mass object that’s capable of retaining its shape ‘across all mach regimes’.
In a separate exchange with a Twitter user, Musk confirmed that the device could possibly be an ‘ultra low ballistic entry coefficient decelerator’, or what appears to be a balloon that could help control the upper stage’s path back to earth.
NASA has been researching ‘inflatable entry systems’ in space missions for some time now.
Private space company Armadillo Aerospace also attempted (and failed) to retrieve a rocket body and nose cone using a novel balloon parachute, or ballute, as they called it.
SpaceX has established a good track record with recovering and reusing flight-proven parts.
The firm has had success with retrieving the first stages of its Falcon rockets, refurbishing them and then sending them on new missions into space.
But it has not yet attempted to retrieve a rocket’s upper stage.
On several missions, twin boosters from a SpaceX rocket have been able to separate and land autonomously back on land.
When an object re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, it’s traveling much faster than the speed of sound, typically in speeds that are near 17,500mph, called ‘hypersonic’,according to NASA.
With the help of a balloon, a rocket’s upper stage would land more slowly and safely back onto the launchpad.
‘We’re going to try a few approaches,’ Musk said in a tweet. ‘Can def be done, just about minimizing mass’.
Musk noted that the firm already brings Falcon 9 upper stages back to earth, but they’re destroyed in the ocean, instead of saved for reuse, so that they don’t become space junk.
‘We already do targeted retro burn to a specific point in Pacific [with] no islands or ships, so [the] upper stage doesn’t become a dead satellite,’ Musk wrote in a tweet.
‘Need to retarget closer to shore & position catcher ship like Mr. Steven’.
In February, SpaceX debuted ‘Mr. Steven,’ a clever contraption used to help retrieve parts from Falcon 9 rockets that have landed back on Earth.
Mr. Steven is outfitted with massive metal claws that are rigged to a net, as a means of gently recovering Falcon 9 payload fairings.
The firm unsuccessfully attempted to retrieve the Falcon Heavy’s central booster on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean (pictured). The part missed the ship by about 328 feet
WHY DOES SPACEX RE-USE ROCKETS AND OTHER PARTS?
SpaceX tries to re-use rockets, payload fairings, boosters and other parts to try to cut down on the cost of each rocket mission.
The total cost of one of its Falcon 9 launches is estimated to reach £44 million ($61m), while each of its larger Falcon Heavy flights costs £65 million ($90m).
The space company has previously re-used first-stage and second-stage rocket boosters, in addition to one of its previously flown Dragon capsules.
The Dragon spacecraft are used as the final stage of SpaceX missions to resupply the International Space Station.
In an incredible accomplishment, the Falcon Heavy’s reused side boosters landed smoothly back down to Earth on two separate launchpads about 8 minutes in.
SpaceX is currently testing a system to recover the fairings of its Falcon 9 rockets.
The payload fairings are clam shell-like nose cone halves that protect the craft’s payload.
SpaceX recovered a payload fairing for the first time in 2017.
During its first Falcon Heavy launch in February 2018, the firm landed two of the firms side boosters simultaneously on separate launchpads.
Musk has referred to the boat as a giant ‘catcher’s mitt’.
It’s also not the first time Musk has proposed a radical idea on Twitter, only for it to be true.
Musk’s tunneling firm, the Boring Company, began selling flamethrowers online after the CEO teased the idea in a tweet.
The $500 (£351) flamethrowers sold out just four days after they went on sale and were being sold on eBay for up to $20,000 (£14,164).