From what I understand, one of the reasons why it's impractical to recover upper stages of rockets is that they're traveling at high speeds, and methods of making them bleed off that speed (such as heat shields) would make them too heavy.

However, would it be possible to reuse upper stages with a plasma magnet drive like the one discussed in the Centauri Dreams post The Plasma Magnet Drive: A Simple, Cheap Drive for the Solar System and Beyond? Essentially, this is an upgraded version of the M2P2 concept of magnetic sail. One of the proposed applications for this is to allow a spacecraft to land via aerobraking, without needing a heavy heat shield. If this is possible, then it should also be possible to land the stages of a rocket that's taking off.


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Partial answer:

According to other answers here, Centauri Dreams posts things that don't always necessarily work. See for example

According to your linked post the idea was discussed at a recent Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop:

The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to bringing together solid, passionate individuals in order to discuss topics relevant to (eventually) turning humanity into an interstellar species.

While solid, passionate individuals are laudable and critical to the survival of humanity, even-keeled, dis-passionate engineers generally make better propulsion systems ;-)

I'm not slamming Centauri Dreams in toto though, I've cited information from there in this answer for example. I'm just asserting that the posts tend to be "optimistic" and the physics there requires careful scrutiny.



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