London: A radical new unpowered rotor design space capsule could allow astronauts to land anywhere in the world - even on the top of a building - without a single bump.
Traditional capsules give returning spacemen a white-knuckle ride, before unceremoniously dumping them either in the ocean or on the ground as a largely uncontrolled parachute returns them to Earth.
A team of researchers brought a pair of scale model space capsules to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to test a rotor system that could be used in place of parachutes on returning spacecraft.
The design would give the capsule the stability and control of a helicopter, but would not be powered, the Daily Mail reported.
Instead, the wind passing over the rotors as the capsule descended would make the blades turn, a process called auto-rotation - proven repeatedly on helicopters but never tried on spacecraft
“The purpose of the testing we’re doing here is to study how to get the rotor starting to spin,” Jeff Hagen, an engineer at Johnson Space Center in Houston said.
“We’re trying to build as much of that story as we can,” he said.
For the low-tech test, researcher Jim Meehan simply stood at the 16th level of the cavernous warehouse that is usually used to build rockets, about halfway up to where the two-pound model capsule hung on a line 480 feet above the concrete floor.
With the help of a helicopter radio-control unit, he remotely changed the rotors’ pitch and slowed the fall four times as the unpowered craft landed on a stack of foam.
“You can land gently and you can land where you want, you don’t have to land out in the ocean,” Meehan said.
“Compared to a parachute, you get a soft landing and you get a targeted landing,” he said.
Rotors could be built into the booster frame and unfurled as the capsule descends to Earth.
Control fins would open on the side of the capsule too, to keep it from revolving with the blades.
Pic courtesy: NASA and Dailymail.co.uk