Elon Musk Says SpaceX Will Catch Starship Rocket With 'Robot Chopsticks'

by Evelyn Arevalo August 30, 2021

Elon Musk Says SpaceX Will Catch Starship Rocket With 'Robot Chopsticks'

SpaceX is in the initial phase of developing a fully-reusable two-stage launch system comprised of a Starship and Super Heavy rocket that could soon fly to orbit from the Starbase facility in South Texas. Engineers aim to perform the first orbital flight attempt from Texas to Hawaii this year. SpaceX plans to use orbital prototypes Super Heavy Booster 4 and Starship SN20; they stacked the 394-foot-tall launch vehicle for the first time early August - it is the largest rocket in history! Exact launch date is unclear, the company is still pending regulatory approval. 

The vehicle will liftoff from Boca Chica launch pad's ‘Stage Zero’, which includes the 400-foot-tall orbital launch tower that will be equipped with mechanical arms to stack the spacecraft atop the booster and ‘catch’ the vehicle(s) as it returns from space. SpaceX founder Elon Musk calls the launch tower's mechanical arm system ‘Mechazilla’. “SpaceX will try to catch largest ever flying object with robot chopsticks,” Musk joked on Monday, “Success is not guaranteed, but excitement is!” He wrote in a Twitter post, alongside a humorous video clip from the original movie ‘The Karate Kid’, where the main characters try to catch a fly [insect] with chopsticks in a scene, linked below. 

Catching the 230-foot-tall booster will enable fast reusability. “Starship booster […] will be caught out of sky by launch tower. Big step forward, as reflight can be done in under an hour,” Musk said earlier this year. However, the company does not plan to catch the vehicle during the upcoming debut orbital flight, both spacecraft stages will land in the ocean during the first test. Musk said they will attempt to catch the next prototype in the series, “Hopefully first try with booster 5,” he said on August 30. 

In follow-up Tweets this week, Musk replied to several questions about the ‘robot chopstick’ mechanism. A Twitter user asked how Mechazilla will catch Starship and the rocket, Musk explained that “Booster has 2 pins for lifting & catching, although maybe it’s better to modify grid fins to take more load,” he wrote, “Something will need to flip out from leeward side of top of [Star]ship to do same there. Maybe it’s part of fwd [forward] flaps, but prob[ably] not. Diff[erent] solutions for diff[erent] load paths.” Another Twitter user asked, “How will the arms 'slide' the booster back out to line up with the orbital pad?” and Musk responded: “Tank treads on the arms.” The company has not released an official render animation demonstrating how Mechazilla will catch the vehicles, an independent creator made a cool animation that depicts how the mechanism could work, video below. 






All Featured Images Source: SpaceX

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