Germany’s space agency wants to catch rockets in the sky after launch

germanys space agency wants to catch rockets in the sky after launch germany dlr
A DLR model of an aerodynamically controlled capture system.

Reducing the cost of space missions is one of the core aims of outfits such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, with both companies having developed reusable rocket systems capable of landing first-stage boosters back on Earth.

Germany’s DLR space agency is also looking to create a reusable launcher for European space missions, but one markedly different from those currently being used.

Instead of using rocket thrust to control descent in the way SpaceX and Blue Origin do, DLR wants to build what it describes as a “rocket catcher.”

The ambitious-sounding system would feature a first-stage booster with wings that would be caught by an aircraft during its descent and then towed toward a landing strip. On final approach, the aircraft would release the booster for a glider-like landing. No, this isn’t an April Fools’ joke. It’s a real plan.

The project, which involves six international partners, has been dubbed FALCon — short for “Formation flight for in-Air Launcher 1st stage Capturing demonstration” — and will run for three years until March 2022.

“In the patented in-air capture process, a winged rocket stage is automatically captured by a transport aircraft while still in flight over the sea, and then towed back to the vicinity of its landing site,” said FALCon project leader Martin Sippel of the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen. “The stage is released there and lands independently, rather like a glider.”

germanys space agency wants to catch rockets in the sky after launch dla roket recovery

Its stated goal is to develop a technical concept for the rocket catcher that’s advanced enough to undergo testing using small demonstrators for autonomous in-flight capture and towing. The technology behind the system has already undergone a degree of testing using uncrewed light aircraft, Germany’s space agency said.

DLR hopes the design will slash the cost of satellite launches and also improve the environmental compatibility of rockets as they should require less fuel than existing systems that need it for controlling a rocket’s descent back to terra firma.

As recently pointed out, DLR is not the only one exploring different ways to reuse rockets. Airbus, for example, has proposed a winged system for flying boosters back to Earth, while United Launch Alliance is researching a method called SMART Reuse — or Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology — that uses an inflatable hypersonic decelerator, a parafoil, and a helicopter that catches the booster during its descent.


An ode to Cuphead: One of the most lovable games of all time

Revisiting Cuphead on Nintendo Switch is just as memorable as it was on Xbox One nearly two years ago. Cuphead's aesthetic has a magical quality that transports you back to the childhood joy of discovery.

Intel gives up on 5G modems for smartphones, will focus on other devices

After a delay that saw Intel's manufacture of 5G modems pushed back to 2020, Intel has given up on the 5G modem business, and will focus its efforts elsewhere. But is something else to blame?
Emerging Tech

SpaceX’s main Falcon Heavy booster is lost at sea after falling off drone ship

SpaceX has lost the center core of its Falcon Heavy rocket after a successful mission last week that ended with it landing on a drone ship. SpaceX said rough seas resulted in the rocket toppling over and falling into the ocean.
Emerging Tech

Watch the huge Stratolaunch plane take to the skies for the very first time

The massive Stratolaunch aircraft -- the world's largest in terms of wingspan -- completed its maiden flight in California on Saturday. The successful outing takes it a step closer to becoming part of a launch system for satellites.
Emerging Tech

Scientists manage to 3D print an actual heart using human cells

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have achieved a world-first by 3D printing a small-scale heart, complete with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Here's why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Drown out noisy neighbors and rest easy with these white noise machines

Some people are more sensitive to sound during sleep than others. Luckily, there are a number of white noise machines on the market to mask the noise. Here are our five of our current favorites.
Emerging Tech

Watch a pack of SpotMini robot dogs perform a terrifying feat of strength

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robotic dog is now going around in packs, and the results are somewhat concerning. Check out the video to see what kind of shenanigans 10 of them got up to recently ...
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and others that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

Notre Dame fire: How drones and a robot called Colossus helped limit the damage

The fire that devastated the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday shocked many around the world. In a bid to prevent even worse damage to the structure, Paris firefighters opted to deploy drones and a robot called Colossus.
Emerging Tech

New gunfire-detection system alerts police of shooters in seconds, not minutes

The Safe Zone Gunfire Detector is a fast gunfire-detection system that could help avert potential tragedies in public places like schools, malls, or anywhere a mass shooting might occur.
Emerging Tech

NASA chooses a special spot for its next crewed moon landing

Following the U.S. government's announcement last month of a desire to see American astronauts set foot on the moon again in the next five years, NASA has revealed a location on the lunar surface where it would most like to land.
Emerging Tech

Adidas has created a running shoe that’s made to be remade

Adidas has unveiled the Futurecraft Loop running shoe that it claims is the first performance footwear to be 100% recyclable. The shoe is the latest green initiative by the sportswear company and will go on sale in 2021.
Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Emerging Tech

Yale scientists restore cellular activity in a pig’s brain hours after its death

In what some may view as a porcine version of Frankenstein, Yale University scientists have restored circulation and cellular activity in a pig’s brain four hours after its death. The study is likely to be used to study brain function