Space

Elon Musk reveals catch and quick release plans for Super Heavy booster

Elon Musk reveals catch and qu...
SpaceX is planning to catch its Super Heavy booster (left) using the launch tower arm
SpaceX is planning to catch its Super Heavy booster (left) using the launch tower arm
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SpaceX is planning to catch its Super Heavy booster (left) using the launch tower arm
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SpaceX is planning to catch its Super Heavy booster (left) using the launch tower arm

SpaceX has been making controlled landings of its Falcon 9 boosters to allow them to be reused for a number of years now. Such landings involve the rockets touching down, be it on a boat or a launch pad, using legs built into the rocket. But SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk has revealed different plans for the Falcon 9's bigger sibling, the Super Heavy, announcing the intention to have the launch tower arm catch the booster.

Rocket retrieval and reusability has become an important focus not just for SpaceX but for other space companies, such as Rocket Lab, which, in addition to retrieving its Electron rocket after an ocean splashdown, has used a helicopter to catch a booster in mid-air. The cost benefits for reusing massively expensive rockets are obvious, and SpaceX's goal of catching its Super Heavy booster is also rooted in cost savings, as well as reducing the weight of the rocket.

The announcement came, as they so often do, via Tweet, with Musk saying the idea would be for the launch tower arm to catch the Super Heavy booster, with its grid fins taking the load.

In a follow-up tweet Musk revealed this approach would not only save money and mass by removing the need for the booster to have legs for landing, but would also allow it to be immediately repositioned onto the launch mount for reuse. Musk added that this would allow the booster to be "ready to refly in under an hour," which sounds overly ambitious, but Musk and the SpaceX team can never be accused of aiming low.

The Super Heavy is designed as the first-stage SpaceX's Starship system, with the Starship spacecraft acting as the second stage for orbital and deep space missions. Suborbital test flights of the Starship on its own are already underway, with the first suborbital flight ending explosively earlier this month, and last week Musk said SpaceX plans to begin flight testing two prototype Super Heavy boosters in as soon as "a few months" at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

Source: Elon Musk via Twitter

3 comments
paul314
I guess the launch tower is already reinforced to withstand rocket exhaust...
Dan_of_Reason
I was amazed to see two Falcon 9 based boosters land back on Earth in tandem. To abandon the weight and complexity of landing legs on the Heavy is a masterstroke. Relaunching in an hour? NASA or other space launch competitors would never have dreamed of something as ambitious. It took the Space Shuttle about 2 years and $2B to relaunch. My hat is off to you SpaceX and Elon Musk.
Techrex
My favorite TV show, which folded, was titled "Scorpion" on CBS, which was about a bunch of diverse specialty geniuses who formed a team to prevent disasters. In one episode, their leader got stuck in a spacecraft flying out of orbit, and jumps out without a parachute! His friends manage to save him, by persuading the U.S. navy to have one of their submarines shoot a torpedo, that explodes in the deep ocean right below him, which aerates the ocean water with gas from its explosion, temporarily turning the spot he's landing on into SELTZER, which is a lot softer than actual water, which does NOT compress away like air does when you hit it hard! If you shoot bullets into deep water, the slug shatter in it rather than penetrate, and if a jet ski slams you quickly into sea water, you are dead! But, what if, in order to retrieve very large scale rocket boosters like this one for re-use, we arrange for the rockets to be shot up over the ocean, and create an underwater system, that turns a big patch of the ocean right below its descent impact site, into seltzer? That way, it could survive falling into the sea after its pushing a payload into orbit INTACT! And if we can re-design the booster section, to close off its internal fuel tank after expending all of its rocket fuel, the hollow tank interior would make the whole thing float like a buoy, up to the ocean surface for easy retrieval later.