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'Sharp' rocket set to revolutionise space travel

DDP/The Local · 16 Jul 2010, 16:19

Published: 16 Jul 2010 16:19 GMT+02:00

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The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) is developing the cutting-edge rocket that can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up or suffering much damage, making it an affordable and easy-to-build alternative to than NASA's ageing space shuttles.

DLR scientists on Friday unveiled the 2.5-metre nose cone for the SHEFEX II program, short for “sharp-edged test flight,” at the DLR headquarters in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich.

It will take its first test flight next March from Australia’s Woomera rocket launch site. A smaller and slower prototype, SHEFEX I, had a successful test flight from Norway in 2005.

“Our goal is to create step-by-step a re-useable space glider,” said project leader Hendrik Weihs from the DLR’s Institute for Design and Construction Research in Stuttgart.

The new model will be more heat-resistant, cheaper and, most importantly, easier to control in landing than any other type of launchable space craft.

The distinct angular nose cone has eight flat faces, which provide better aerodynamics and cheaper construction than the traditional round cone.

“The rocket therefore has nearly the aerodynamic qualities of a space shuttle, but it’s smaller and doesn’t need wings,” said Weihs.

The €12.5 million-program, funded entirely by Germany, is the only one of its kind – a rocket that can automatically guide itself back to Earth.

“We’re a pretty long way ahead,” said Weihs, adding that he hoped the project would father “a new generation” of rocket science.

NASA has decided to discontinue its space shuttle fleet, sparking a search for a replacement.

“But that system is very elaborate and very expensive,” Weihs said.

Normally, with ballistic capsules such as rockets, which are also used by Russian cosmonauts and Chinese taikonauts, the catch is that they cannot be controlled when they re-enter the atmosphere.

The DLR model, on the other hand, can be guided to a very precise point on Earth’s surface. That will be tested in Australia. The tricky part is controlling the craft as it descends from about 100km to roughly 20km altitude, after which it can be brought down by parachute to land in the desert.

“When the space craft enters Earth’s atmosphere, the air is very strongly compressed and grinds against the body of the craft.''

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That can raise the temperature to as high as 10,000 degrees Celsius. The flat planes of the nose cone are specially prepared to deal with this, Weihs explained.

“With the new model, the heat on the planes is reduced. Only the apex will get extremely hot.”

To counter that heat, gas will be pushed through the porous material of the apex, acting as a buffer against the hot, compressed air.

Next year’s test flight will be unmanned, but with further funding, a manned flight is possible. Such progress could be made with co-operation from other members of the European Union or with the United States, Weihs said.

“First, the will has to be there,” he said.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

22:50 July 16, 2010 by DavidtheNorseman
Congratulations to the entire team, what a great achievement!
09:58 July 17, 2010 by Frenemy
Wow! (sarcasm)

"The €12.5 million-program, funded entirely by Germany, is the only one of its kind ­ a rocket that can automatically guide itself back to Earth."

First off, 12.5 mil is cheap for this kind of thing.

Secondly, I could think of better ways to appropriate €12.5 million. It can "guide itself back to Earth"? You don't need a guidance system for that! Its called GRAVITY (it pretty much does the job for ya)! Call it what you will orbital decay or "what goes up must come down"...

Interesting engineering feat -and I hate to be the bearer of bad news- but no one will buy this tech...
20:03 July 17, 2010 by FreiburgandCambridge
I'll buy it! I might wait a few years till the price comes down, but €50 is theirs if they want it.

Always wanted a big rocket!
18:31 July 19, 2010 by Beachrider
Cool. Any specs on load and lifting rocket? Anything more specific on landing/recovery protocols being tried? Any target timeframes for a fully deliverable system?
14:10 October 3, 2010 by srule
12.5 million euros is nothing in this industry. Is this really ground breaking technology here? I am all for advancing our space flight techniques but this idea doesn't seem revolutionary. - Simon the phone system guy.
06:47 December 7, 2010 by Marivic
A large finding about extraterrestrial existence could be announced Thursday at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration press conference. National Aeronautics and Space Administration appears to be following Apple's model of press relations. A mystical event has been declared and the Internet has erupted with predictions about its nature. The documented work of researchers presenting their findings at the press conference lead some to conclude that proof of existence on other worlds has become confirmed.
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