Rocket stages can land on the ground like airplanes

Engineers plan to improve the system of returning the stages of space rockets for reuse. To do this, they offer two possible designs that will allow landing in a horizontal position, similar to how airplanes do it.

The first stage of the rocket returns in the traditional way. Source:

How to return rocket stages

Reusability has become one of the main trends in the development of launch vehicles. The practical implementation of this idea has already made it possible to significantly reduce the cost of launching spacecraft, because the reuse of even a part of the spacecraft allows to save hundreds of thousands of dollars at each launch. Therefore, companies are trying to find a way to save absolutely everything, including the nose fairing.

However, the main task in this regard is to save the lower stage. For this, private companies resort to various tricks, but the vertical landing using the main engines and the fuel that remains in the tanks remains mainstream. 

It is implemented by SpaceX, and this is really a good and already proven solution. But it still seems very expensive to many engineers. After all, the mass of cargo that a rocket can put into orbit is significantly reduced. That is why engineers continue to look for other solutions.

Horizontal landing

One of the solutions recently came from the National Space Research Center (CNES) of France. The engineers who work there offered two options at once, united by a common idea. According to experts, horizontal landing with aerodynamic flight can help save fuel.

For this purpose, the authors of the project propose to equip the rocket stages with a number of additional tools: surfaces having an aerodynamic profile, fairings and landing gear. In the first version, this is where the retrofitting of the rocket is completed.

In this case, the first stage separates from the second and uses rocket engines to slow down and descend. At the last stage, it turns around using the same engines, finally dampens the speed by aerodynamic braking and performs horizontal flight and landing like a conventional unmanned aircraft.

In the second variant, the stage does not use rocket fuel and engines at all. Instead, it flies along a high ballistic trajectory and, upon returning to the atmosphere, dampens the speed by aerodynamic braking. After that, it turns on small jet engines, similar to those used in airplanes, and performs a horizontal landing at the airfield.

The first option saves significantly less fuel, but is technically simpler than the second. Which one of them will eventually turn out to be the best, no one can say. It is quite possible that in the future, specialists will try both.

According to

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