Science

SpaceX may try to catch a falling rocket with a launch tower

SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed, in a series of tweets, the plans for the Super-Heavy booster descent process, just weeks after the successful SN8 test-flight in early-December. 

The Super-Heavy booster will be SpaceX’s method of getting the Starship spacecraft out of Earth’s gravitational pull and, ultimately, allow it to carry humans to other worlds in our solar system. The problem with the booster, it appears, is its descent to ground after delivering the Starship to orbit. With other boosters, such as the Falcon 9, SpaceX used retractable legs, but if recent statements from Musk are to be taken as fact, the company wants to get rid of that method in order to save weight.

The solution, as Musk put it in his Twitter feed, is to “catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm” as it is hovering in mid-air. Although it seems to come straight from a sci-fi movie, this solution has some benefits in comparison to the one currently in use with the Falcon 9 booster. Firstly, the Super-Heavy booster is, as the name says, extremely heavy, which means the legs would need to weigh up to 10 metric tons to support its weight during the landing sequence. As Musk put it in one of his tweets, “Legs would certainly work, but best part is no part, best step is no step.” Secondly, the launch tower would enable SpaceX to reposition the rocket quickly and, ultimately, be “ready to refly in under an hour.” Of course, that could only be achievable in the future, as the first Super Heavy boosters to land successfully will be carefully analyzed before being allowed to launch again.

Skepticism around this idea is not unseen. SpaceX has already come up with many eccentric ideas for its rockets, many of which were later discarded. This is, in fact, one of the reasons behind the success of SpaceX. By asking his employees to complete nearly impossible tasks (like a fully reusable space-launch system) and allowing them to fail, Musk is able to bring true innovation to the aerospace industry. The question remains, though, as to whether or not it is feasible and economically viable to invest in this technology rather than stick to the retractable legs that have been successfully bringing other rockets back to Earth safely.

ARTICLE: JOSÉ TEIXEIRA

SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH

PHOTO CREDITS: SPACEX

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