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Space Transportation Science

Masten and Armadillo Perform First VTVL Restarts 94

FleaPlus writes "Recently Masten Aerospace, winner of NASA's 2009 Lunar Lander Challenge, demonstrated using its Xombie vehicle the first-ever mid-flight restart of a VTVL (vertical-takeoff vertical-landing) rocket, a critical capability for the emerging suborbital/microgravity science and passenger markets (video from ground). Not to be outdone, John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace (winner of the 2008 Lunar Lander Challenge) flew its Mod rocket to 2,000 feet (610m), deployed a drogue parachute, and then restarted the engine to land (multi-view video showing John Carmack at the controls)."
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Masten and Armadillo Perform First VTVL Restarts

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  • Re:Very Impressive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nofx_3 ( 40519 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:13PM (#32490890)

    I watched it twice. In the first video I was impressed by the same thing as you, the vectoring stabilizing the falling rocket. On the second watch I was even more impressed when I realized even after the drogue shoot and free fall, the rocket landed just a foot or two from it's original takeoff point. So the vectoring didn't just stabilize the rocket, it also steered it back to the takeoff point.

  • Re:Just a step... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:21PM (#32490958) Journal

    Very impressive, but these are just jump-jets for now - sort of rocket helicopters. Going from what we saw to something that can get to orbit, deposit a payload, and return to earth undamaged is going to take a lot more work. Good luck to both teams.

    I don't think either Masten or Armadillo (or Virgin, XCOR, or Blue Origin) are planning on targeting the ground-to-orbit market any time soon. I think the general target markets for them for the next several years goes something like this:

    * testbeds for NASA autonomous lander tech, like autonomous hazard avoidance (NASA can just put their AI/vision equipment on existing lander to test them out)
    * suborbital science payloads: there's a lot of scientists who currently have to pay $1 million+ a launch to fly payloads on suborbital sounding rockets to the upper atmosphere and near-space that would love to pay the much-lower prices Masten and Armadillo charge to fly at much-higher flight rates
    * microgravity science payloads: getting amounts of microgravity time that can only currently be beaten by flying on the ISS
    * suborbital passenger payloads: both "tourists," scientists who want to be able to operate their experiments manually, and training for orbital astronauts. Armadillo just announced that they were planning on charging $102K per person, undercutting Virgin's price by half: []
    * robotic landers for NEOs/Moon/Mars, boosted to the location by an expendable rocket
    * after making tons of money on the above, then maybe they'll start thinking about orbit. Once that happens, it'll probably be with something like pop-up boosters, where a reusable VTVL craft will boost an expendable secondary stage high/fast enough that it can reach orbit.

    Let me know if I forgot any. ;)

  • Orbital Factories? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @08:34PM (#32491054) Homepage Journal

    So how long before a corporation launches a factory into (relatively) permanent orbit, for manufacturing in microgravity and near-vacuum? Will factories like that be able to dump their products back into the ocean for collection by delivery ships?

    I want to see if aerogels [] can be made in orbit not just cheaply, but with their internal structure oriented so they can be regular windows. They're such good insulators, and have such small mass per surface area that they could probably be dropped from orbit into the ocean without any extra packaging. Or as packaging containing other, more fragile stuff made in orbit and then the aerogel reused for its own applications once it's collected at the surface.

  • Re:Just a step... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by toastar ( 573882 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @10:27PM (#32491774)

    No.... If this was intended for suborbital flight, Why not just land the whole shebang with parachutes?

    This is mainly for landing in places with low to no atmosphere like the moon or mars.

  • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @10:34PM (#32491836)

    Given that most orbital rockets linger in the dense, friction-expensive atmosphere rather shortly and *slowly* there is very little benefit to be had by dropping them down from a plane. I suggest a simple calculation: express the orbital energy as a function of mass and height, and see how small the potential energy is compared to kinetic energy. Hypotethically, if you would lift a rocket up to orbital height without giving it orbital velocity, you'd still need pretty much all of the fuel just to reach the orbital velocity.

    The only benefit from launching higher up is for sub-orbital flights that do expend a significant amount of their fuel to overcome atmospheric friction and to gain potential energy. That's why SSOne launches up high.

    OTOH, LEO requires ~30 times more energy than sub-orbital. GEO/lunar requires ~60 times more. So, whatever you launch to GEO, the energy used to bring it up to 100km high is so small that you can ignore it and your error is within 2%!

  • Re:Very Impressive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning@netzero. n e t> on Tuesday June 08, 2010 @07:38AM (#32494256) Homepage Journal

    It didn't look like they even really tried to get back on the exact spot either... just to simply get the rocket onto the pad so it wouldn't sink into the mud was good enough. Still, you are correct that it landed within just a couple of feet of the original take off point.

    It will be very interesting to see what is going to happen when they try for high altitude flights. The next series is supposedly going to take them to about 100k feet, which is where the real fun is going to start. That still isn't in space, but it is getting close and will be in preparation for real sub-orbital flight.

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