The Holy Grail of Rocketry: Watch how SpaceX plans to catch the largest-ever flying object Starship Booster out of the sky using robotic chopsticks
We’ve been following the story of SpaceX’s Starship orbital flight for over a year now. Starship is a fully reusable launch vehicle still under development by SpaceX as part of its plan to fulfill the ultimate purpose of Mars exploration. Starship, which consists of a reusable stainless-steel Super Heavy booster and a Starship spacecraft, is designed to carry as much as 100 tons of cargo and people to orbit at a fraction of the cost of previous designs.
In May, SpaceX launched and successfully landed the latest prototype of its Starship (SN15) rocket after the test flight. Equipped with three sea-level Raptor engines, the SN15 prototype launched and flew as high as 33,000 feet (about 10 kilometers) in altitude before safely landing a few minutes later. Musk also said that SpaceX will fly the first orbital test of its massive Starship rocket in early 2020 and he expects a dozen or more launches in 2022.
During an interview with reporters, Musk said the stainless steel rocket and Super Heavy booster beneath it will be “rapidly and fully reusable,” Musk said, calling that combination “the Holy Grail of rocketry.”
As you may recall, we reported back in August about a mind-blowing concept designed to catch SpaceX Starships and its superheavy boosters to bring humanity to Mars. The idea was designed by a small obscure startup called Small Stars which can be seen in the video at the very bottom of this article.
However, since then other SpaceX fans have proposed other designs that have caught Musk’s attention. The latest design was shared on Twitter by Owen Sparks, who describes himself as someone who wants to “help accelerate the transition to a sustainable future and get humanity to Mars.” Musk seems to like the idea. In response, Musk says, “Yup, that’s the plan!” You can watch the video below.
Yup, that’s the plan!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2021
The news of the Starship booster catcher first broke back in March when SpaceX filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to build a 469-ft tall steel launch tower for its Starship rocket in Texas that will catch the super-heavy booster when landing. Then in April, Musk announced on Twitter saying: “Starship booster, largest flying object ever designed, will be caught out of sky by launch tower. Big step forward, as reflight can be done in under an hour.”
In August, Musk said that SpaceX will try to catch the largest-ever flying object with robot chopsticks. Musk added that “Success is not guaranteed, but excitement is!” while including a 2-minute video of The Karate Kid.
SpaceX will try to catch largest ever flying object with robot chopsticks.
Success is not guaranteed, but excitement is!https://t.co/75yMgIWOwE
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 30, 2021
When asked if the catch will happen as soon as Booster 5 or perhaps only until the boosters have achieved a few pinpoint water landings, Musk replied the first try of the catch will with booster 5. Others say it makes sense to catch Starship booster 5 considering “Booster 5 will have the second generation of raptors and dumping the prototypes in the ocean is much easier than almost production engines.”
Meanwhile, below is a video from SmallStars on how the catching system concept would work.