SpaceX to slow upper rocket stages with "giant party balloon"

Monday, 16 Apr, 2018

NASA's new planet-hunting satellite will "discover new potential planets orbiting bright host stars relatively close to Earth", said the company, which is controlled by billionaire USA tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The idea certainly does sound insane enough for SpaceX to actually try, but it may not be quite as absurd as it initially sounds.

In a series of tweets, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called out the popular party accoutrements as components in his plan to reuse rocket parts after a launch.

Meteorologists with the US Air Force 45th Space Wing have predicted an 80 percent chance of favourable weather for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket's launch with NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite aimed at detecting planets outside our solar system.

Now, if the company manages to take control of the upper stages with something as cost-effective as a balloon, it would be a major advantage in the business, especially with massive interplanetary missions lined up for the future, Engadget reported.

In addition, SpaceX is now trying to recover its payload fairing that is the big nose cone on the Falcon 9.

A balloon would aid in slowing down the upper stage from orbital velocity as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere, by reducing the second stage's ballistic coefficient.

As of 2018, SpaceX estimates a cost of $62 million (£43m) to launch Falcon 9 and $90 million (£63) to launch Falcon Heavy. It's much more hard to recover the second stage due to the heat shield, landing engines, and other equipment required to achieve it.

Next, in order to finish the job, SpaceX will use retrograde burns to pick a spot in the ocean where it would stage the drop. For now, other details on the move remain unclear, including when it might be executed.