The Big Think

April 24, 2014

We Live in the Future

Filed under: Current Reading,Space,Technology — jasony @ 1:00 pm

SpaceX Achieves First Booster Flyback During Space Station Mission | MIT Technology Review: “Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, took a step toward making spaceflight less expensive by reusing its rocket boosters during a mission on Friday to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket used for the mission, dubbed Commercial Resupply-3, or CRS-3, was the first to fly with landing legs, and was the first to successfully perform a controlled ocean splashdown.”

I confess that I don’t understand how this is possible from a fuel/weight standpoint. I’d always thought that you would run the tanks on the boosters nearly dry in order to maximize the amount of payload to orbit. Keeping enough fuel in the booster to get enough delta-v to make a slow touchdown seems like a big hit to payload capacity. Maybe the air friction slows the falling booster down enough to make the amount of fuel not as necessary? Still, the booster would have to drain off probably 6000mph from stage separation to atmo reentry.

Guess they have it figured out, though. And salvaging/reusing a 200 million dollar booster would probably make it worth it. Build it a little bigger and cap the payload capacity so that you could have the excess fuel needed?

Anyway, really cool tech here. I just finished the book Pillar to the Sky about how we are 90% of the way technologically to making a space elevator/beanstalk work. The author worked out the economics of it and determined that a 200 billion dollar investment would not only net a price-to-orbit of around $10/kg (as opposed to the $100,00 of today), but would also give us access to way more energy than we currently need (in the form of constantly-exposed solar panels in geosync and a convenient way to get them down). Good book.

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