Intelligent system would let spent rockets land on a ship

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin patent wants rockets to land on boat rather than splashing down

blue origin
The logistics sound ambitious but an eye-catching patent made public today defines an intelligent boat that would be sent out on the ocean to catch spent rockets that have delivered payloads to space and are returning to Earth.

The patent was presented by Blue Origin, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' privately-funded aerospace firm.  The main idea behind the system is to make it less costly to retrieve and ultimately reuse spent rocket boosters.  Currently NASA uses a couple ships to retrieve space shuttle booster from the ocean. 

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The system in a nutshell uses a floating platform with equipment on board that would broadcast its location to a system onboard an overhead rocket.  The rocket would locate the ship and use a system of its own engines to fly and lower itself on-board the boat.

The abstract from the patent application reads as follows:  "In one embodiment, a reusable space launch vehicle is launched from a coastal launch site in a trajectory over water. After booster engine cutoff and upper stage separation, the booster stage reenters the earth's atmosphere in a tail-first orientation. The booster engines are then restarted and the booster stage performs a vertical powered landing on the deck of a pre-positioned sea-going platform. In one embodiment, bidirectional aerodynamic control surfaces control the trajectory of the booster stage as it glides through the earth's atmosphere toward the sea-going platform. The sea-going platform can broadcast its real-time position to the booster stage so that the booster stage can compensate for errors in the position of the sea-going platform due to current drift and/or other factors. After landing, the sea-going platform can be towed by, e.g., a tug, or it can use its own propulsion system, to transport the booster stage back to the coastal launch site or other site for reconditioning and reuse. In another embodiment, the booster stage can be transferred to another vessel for transport. In still further embodiments, the booster can be refurbished while in transit from a sea-based or other landing site."

Blue Origin is developing what it calls a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing spacecraft known as the New Shepard.  The company is one of a number of commercial entities looking to capitalize on a commercial space race. 

In Feb. NASA awarded some $50 million to Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance to develop and demonstrate safe, reliable, and cost-effective capabilities to transport cargo and eventually crew to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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