SpaceX launch: What is Elon Musk’s giant party balloon? | Science | News

As if launching a satellite into space to explore the distant reaches of the galaxy wasn’t enough, SpaceX CEO, , sent Twitter wild when he announced he would land a spacecraft with a party balloon. 

SpaceX is set to launch TESS, a NASA spacecraft designed to explore other planets further outside our Solar System, and ahead of thelaunch Musk tweeted an odd message. 

He said: “This is gonna sound crazy, but … SpaceX will try to bring rocket upper stage back from orbital velocity using a giant party balloon.”

The tweet refers to the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, a ‘workhorse’ booster for previous and future SpaceX launches. 

The upper state is currently the only major component of the rocket that the Hawthorne, California-based aerospace company has not tried to reuse in its pursuit of a fully reusable launch vehicle.

Falcon 9 has assisted in 23 landings and 11 relaunches from SpaceX. The stage redirects rockets to send them back to earth to land on off-shore platforms or be caught out at sea. 

What is Elon Musk’s giant party balloon? 

The Twitter musings of the billionaire have sent social media into a spin trying to work out precisely what Musk means. 

There was no extra details given after the tweet, other than saying a sturdy balloon has a good shape to withstand the stresses a rocket stage endures during its supersonic landing back on Earth. 

A giant balloon is “great for creating a giant object that retains its shape across all Mach regimes & drops ballistic coefficient by 2 orders of magnitude,” Musk wrote. 

The plan is presumably in place to reduce the costs involved in landing and relaunching used parts from .

Falcon 9 upper stages are already sent back to earth, dropping into the Pacific Ocean so as to avoid becoming space junk. 

“We already do targeted retro burn to a specific point in Pacific [with] no islands or ships, so [the] upper stage doesn’t become a dead satellite,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “Need to retarget closer to shore & position catcher ship like Mr. Steven.” 

Mr. Steven is a ship equipped with a net and giant metal arms to catch falling Falcon 9 payload fairings. Musk has called it a “catcher’s mitt” in boat form.

This will not be the first time balloons are used to safely return a rocket. 

In 2012, John Carmack’s rocket company tried to land a rocket body and nose cone using a balloon. 

Unfortunately, the rocket made a “hard landing” in New Mexico.

No timeline has been given for this attempt, but it is likely an idea that SpaceX will use in the future. 

What is TESS?

TESS the newest exoplanet hunter, courtesy of NASA, tasked with searching hundreds of lightyears away at the most distant of stars. 

The aim is to see if stars blink.When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star’s light ever so slightly. 

TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon.

The satellite will not get to its final orbit today. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. 

From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. 

The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. 

Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.

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