So far, SpaceX rockets have always landed by placing legs around the rocket as it returned to Earth. If Elon Musk’s new remarks are correct, the company would like to end this method in order to save weight. Future spaceships may no longer have legs at all.
The Super Heavy launcher is the first stage launcher for the second stage vehicle known as the spaceship. Super Heavy will continue to use its engines to control descent, similar to the current Falcon 9, but it will use its grid fins to control orientation in flight.
According to Musk, SpaceX believes it doesn’t need legs to land the rocket safely. After a reader asked Elon if a user-created video accurately captured the Super Heavy descent profile, the founder of SpaceX dropped this announcement:
We will try to catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm and take the load with the grid ribs.
« We’re going to try to catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm and take the load with the lattice ribs » doesn’t sound like a statement that makes people hot and nervous, but the context, it’s all and a lot of SpaceX- Fans are enthusiastic about the idea. An equally large group of them, including the author, are somewhat confused about this. It’s not clear what it means when the launch tower « catches » the Super Heavy. Launch towers don’t exactly fall down when you breathe on them, but I’ve never heard of using one to directly catch a missile (even a depleted first stage missile). .
The implication seems to be that the missile carries its own weight directly on the grid fins and that « catching » is more about aligning the missile with the launch arm so that they can reconnect, as opposed to Use the start arm to somehow brake or steer the Super Heavy as it descends.
Saves & Bulky Leg Costs & allows instant repositioning of the booster on the mount’s start – ready to be refilled in less than an hour
According to Elon, the goal is to enable the same missile to be reused in less than an hour. This is rocket reusability as envisioned by science fiction writers who predicted Earth-Moon or Earth-Mars shuttles would leave the other side every hour, with little more than one refueling required before the next trip is.
It will be a long time before we reach this speed, if at all. The first successfully landed Super Heavy boosters are carefully analyzed before they can be restarted. Currently, the B1049, a SpaceX booster that has been successfully launched and recovered six times, is the world record holder for the most reused rocket.
But Super Heavy doesn’t have to wait less than an hour to revolutionize space travel. NASA’s best record for putting the same shuttle into orbit is 55 days, and most updates took significantly longer.
A reusable rocket that could launch once a month would be a dramatic leap especially from what NASA has accomplished with the shuttle (and with the benefit of several more decades of R&D in computing and materials engineering). . A reusable rocket that could launch any week would revolutionize the cost of space transportation. It goes without saying that « under an hour », if possible, would mess things up a little.
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