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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Future Space Shuttles Without Parachutes?

[Media Source*]

At least three space tourism startups are building spacecraft that forgo the wing-and-parachute landing systems used by space shuttles and space capsules in favor of retrorockets. These rockets will slow down the new spacecraft enough to land gently on their feet, UFO-style...

"From a simplicity standpoint, there are less systems on there. There are no additional systems to land that you didn't already need to fly up," said John Carmack, founder of space tourism upstart Armadillo Aerospace, of his company's vehicle. "You basically just land it and fill it back up."

These soft landings are nothing new, as both the Russians and Americans used them when landing robots upon the lunar surface as well as Mars. NASA as well as other governmental agencies have preferred using parachutes and wings to slow down the space craft via Earth's atmosphere, although utilizing such methods often meant building more complex systems.

Although using the "soft method" for landing is less complex than the "chutes and wings," version, soft landing would require more fuel making the craft heavier. NASA is considering implementing retro-rockets instead of parachutes, although it seems that they are approaching the idea with caution.
[Neil] Cheatwood, [an aerospace engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center] conceded the soft landing option is not as popular as wings or parachutes for the CEV, but noted that it had not yet been ruled out.

"The ultimate landing system is still being considered," he said. "All those (options) are in the mix right now."

Although retro-rockets may sound like a more simplistic practical approach, it may be wise to apply both methods (the parachutes and the rockets) to the new space craft as one could act as a fail safe for the other. NASA was wise to use the parachute option because it would simply rely on the Earth's atmosphere to slow it down, requiring no extra mechanical guidance once deployed.

Installing retro-rockets seems to be a smart move for the upcoming private sector, although they should reconsider simply having this system alone. By having both methods on the new space craft it would ensure not only the passengers safety, but would reduce the chances of the craft slamming into the Earth's crust because the retro rockets failed to activate (something that would hinder the space tourism industry).

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By Darnell Clayton • 12:30 PM • Email Post • •


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