Musk Says Space X Will Catch Largest Spacecraft With Robot Chopsticks

SpaceX announced they will try to catch the largest man-made spacecraft with robotic arms as it falls from the sky, and yes, that's just as wild as it sounds. Elon Musk said it would be like catching the Super Heavy booster with chopsticks. If the company pulls it off, the landing of the Super Heavy will look pretty much like the take-off maneuver, where the robotic towers release a rocket, but in reverse.

The idea of landing the Starship Super Heavy booster is not new and, from the start, it's been SpaceX’s vision to extend its reusable rocket technology to the Starship. In April, Musk announced that the Starship booster would land on a launch tower. Original designs contemplated a circular 'catch' system that could adjust positions to match the rocket’s descent. Landing the Starship on a platform “cuts down on re-flight time to under an hour,” Musk said in April and baptized the robotic system as “Mechazilla”.

Related: Why AI-Powered Space Trips Are More Complicated Than A Self-Driving Tesla

SpaceX will try to catch the largest-ever flying object with robot chopsticks,” Musk tweeted. As cool as that sounds, the SpaceX boss seems to be preparing everyone for the possibility of a crash landing, saying that “success is not guaranteed, but excitement is!” The biggest risk of this new landing operation is not only losing the booster but destroying the catch and landing system at the same time. SpaceX plans to move the catch system to the side of the platform to avoid the platform from being destroyed in case everything goes wrong, but that's still no guarantee. The platform itself is a complex and expensive structure which the company does not want to lose.

SpaceX is known for successfully landing rockets vertically. It has landed its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters several times. However, the Starship, once stacked, is almost twice the size of a Falcon Heavy. The forces that come to play are therefore greater and would make a vertical landing more challenging. Musk said that the platform and grid fins on the rocket are designed to take the stress. The SpaceX system will transfer final speed reduction and shock forces to the mass of the launch towers and robotic arms. The system is designed to increase landing reliability, but testing will show how reliable it really is.

SpaceX’s launch tower, streaming live on Starship Campaign and rising 400 feet into the air, has been buzzing with activity. The new components of the robotic arms that will 'catch' the Starship booster arrived a few weeks ago and are being assembled. Recently, SpaceX has been on a roll, and while Boeing’s mission for NASA is indefinitely grounded, the SpaceX Dragon capsule recently docked with the International Space Station and the Falcon 9 rocket that put Dragon into orbit landed successfully. At Boca Chica Village in South Texas, the Starship spacecraft was stacked for the first time above the Super Heavy Booster 4. Musk said that the robotic arms that will catch the Starship will be operating for the Starship Heavy Booster 5 mission. SpaceX crashed a lot of rockets before getting a grip on rocket landing, so expect an adjustment period as it tries to master a new way of catching rockets.

Source: Ellon Musk Twitter/StarShipCampaign

Next: Here's How SpaceX's Starship Will Refuel Without Landing

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